Today, we are headed to the islands. Far, far away. Oceania to be precise. A continent that is mainly composed of islands.
Although the Tonga archipelago extends over an area larger than France and it is composed of 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.
This recipe is just one of the several coconut-based recipes we have featured on 196 flavors.Well, it hasn’t been difficult to find a recipe based on coconut from Tonga, as this is one of the main ingredients of the region, along with banana and vanilla.
Vera and I love coconut and we always find a way to include it in recipes, whether savory like Micronesian chicken kelaguen or mas huni from the Maldives, or sweet like 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 make.
To be honest, the dumplings are good, but 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 make this dessert again but with lighter and tastier dumplings.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup coconut cream (or thick coconut milk)
- 2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1½ cup shredded coconut
- 2 ripe bananas , mashed
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 vanilla bean , split in half and grated
- ½ cup water
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 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, ½ 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 cooked 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.