Come on, shake your body baby, do the tonga… I know you can’t control yourself any longer…
I’m sure Gloria Estefan wouldn’t mind me slightly changing the words of her megahit Conga. This week, we are headed to the islands. Far, far away. Oceania to be precise. A continent that is mainly composed of islands. A dream, especially this winter… although, I can’t complain, it’s currently 80 F in Los Angeles and I have already made myself a few enemies with my video from last week …
This week, Vera, Joanne and I will therefore travel through the middle of the Pacific islands. I am starting with the archipelago of Tonga. Although this archipelago extends over an area larger than France and it has more than 170 islands, only 36 of them are inhabited and its total population is hardly greater than 100,000 total. In many Polynesian dialects, tonga means “south”, as the archipelago is the southernmost group of islands of central Polynesia.
Nukualofa ! No, this is not an insult (although it looks like it), but the name of the capital of Tonga. Tongan people will understand the joke (bad joke, I have to say) because they are in fact a very friendly people. Indeed, Captain James Cook who discovered the archipelago in 1773 named Tonga the Friendly Islands after having received a warm welcome, even if some of his men had been massacred… but hey, after they had become great friends.
Tonga has unfortunately been in the news this month (well, mostly news from the Pacific) with Cyclone Ian which destroyed part of the Archipelago with incredible force and winds that reached nearly 180 miles per hour. It is almost a miracle that Tonga has only suffered one human loss. New Zealand thankfully came to the rescue of its neighbor with humanitarian and financial aid.
This post is dedicated to the Tongan people to whom we wish a lot of courage to overcome this terrible ordeal.
This week, Vera, Joanne and I have also decided to pick coconut-based recipes. Well, it was not very difficult since it is a key ingredient of the cuisine of the Polynesian islands, along with banana and vanilla. You know I always give my best, so this is a dessert made with these three ingredients that I have selected for this week’s post!
We love coconut on 196 flavors, and we always find ways to integrate our favorite ingredient in savory recipes like Vera’s Micronesian chicken kelagen or mas huni from the Maldives as well as sweet recipes like Joanne’s Australian lamington. Yes, coconut is ubiquitous in Oceania!
Faikakai topai is the basic version of this dessert that is composed of dumplings (or topai in Tongan) in a sweet coconut syrup (lolo in Tongan). There are several variations of the same dessert with breadfruit (faikakai mei), taro leaves (faikakai ngou’a), cassava (faikakai manioke tama) or with bananas (faikakai malimali) which is the version I chose.
To be honest, the dumplings did not have any gustatory interest, and if I were to make them again, I think I would add more banana, coconut and vanilla (the recipe below takes those adjustments into account). The main draw of this dessert is the coconut caramel (lolo). Yes, lolo is nothing more than caramelized sugar to which coconut milk is added instead of cream or butter in the traditional caramel recipe.
This past Friday night, my friend Shai from Miami, who was visiting Los Angeles for the weekend was my guinea pig. Like us, I think he just enjoyed the caramel sauce the most… I think I will do this dessert again but with lighter and tastier dumplings
Meanwhile, how about a little bit more of tonga ?
Recipe of Faikakai Malimali
Ingredients (for 8 people)
For the lolo (coconut syrup)
- 1 cup sugar
1 cup coconut cream (or thick coconut milk)
For Topais (dumplings)
- 2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 tablespoons sugar
1 vanilla bean, split in half and grated
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons butter
Lolo (coconut syrup)
Put the sugar in a small saucepan over low heat and dissolve slowly.
Before reaching boil, add the coconut cream and stir until mixture is thick. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to boil.
Meanwhile, combine flour, baking powder, 1/2 cup of shredded coconut, bananas, sugar and vanilla in a bowl.
Mix all ingredients together and gradually add ½ cup of water to form a fairly dry dough.
Roll into tablespoon-sized balls and place in the pot of simmering water.
Gently boil the dumplings for 15 minutes or until coked through. Drain and set aside.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add 1 cup of shredded coconut and stir until the coconut turns golden.
Put the dumplings in the pan and coat with coconut for 2 minutes.
Remove carefully and serve with the coconut syrup.