Recipe: Baked Papaya with Sweet Coconut Cream

When Ava says it, Keith comes running.

“Pa pa pa pa yapa”

Even for me, papaya is fun to say. Beautiful to behold. But here the thing. I never, ever buy this tropical fruit because I cannot figure out what on earth to do with it, aside from enjoying fresh, cool slices. Preferably poolside.

Enter our week at the Marshallese Global Table, where I learned that these easy, breezy, island people bake papaya with a bit of sugar and enjoy with warm coconut milk.

Hello. Okay. Let’s just say I’m intrigued.

Once baked, the hot, creamy treat reminds me of peach pie, but without the crust. And without all the work.

For more exotic flair, I decided to add the Pacific’s ever-popular pandan leaf, which is available frozen in Asian markets. Pandan adds a vanilla/rice floral note… (Use pandan like bay leaf – use it to infuse flavor, and then remove before eating).


1 ripe Papaya, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
coconut milk, as needed (about 1/4 cup per side)
4 Tbsp sugar, for sprinkling
4 tbsp water
2 pandan leaves (optional)


Preheat the oven to 375F and gather your gorgeous bounty:

Cut open the ripe papaya and scoop out the sparkling black seeds.

Papaya looks like the first flush of love.

Add a little water into each happy half and sprinkle on a snowfall of sugar – 1-2 Tbsp per half.

If desired, tuck a knotted pandan leaf into the water.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the papaya is tender but still holds its shape. Ahh, the house will smell glorious.

Remove from oven and immediately ladle some coconut milk into each half in order to warm it.

This will just take a few minutes. Meanwhile, take a sunny stroll down the street, preferably in the Marshall Islands.

Majuro (Marshall Islands) main road. Photo by Mrlins

Five minutes later, dive into the papaya.

They look a bit like butternut squash, but don’t be fooled. This is dessert.

So grab a spoon…

… fill your bowl (avoiding the pandan)……ladle on more coconut milk…

And go to happy town!

Share with friends (hi Alan and Michelle!), friends of friends, and not yet friends.

Most of all, have a happy day!

(Psst, Alan and Michelle have been so wonderful, supporting this project since the very beginning. They were even at the very first Global Table meal with us, way back when we did Afghanistan… as well as so many others. Somehow – don’t ask me why – this is the first┬átime they made it into the photos and video. Great to have them over for papapapa paya and make things right!)

Opt In Image
Hungry for more?
Be notified when National Geographic releases my memoir.

Simply fill in your details below.


  1. What a gorgeous dessert.

  2. Michelle says:

    That was so yummy! Not real sweet but just sweet enough. Could really taste all the flavors. Now I know what to do with a papaya. Always passed over them in the store before.

  3. aunty eileen says:

    Yes Lora, and also… what a gorgeous lady!

  4. I’ve never considered baking papaya, but it makes totally sense: they taste a bit like peaches and peaches are so good when baked. I think it could be a good way to rescue not-so-good papaya as well (which is all I can find here of course). Thank you!


  1. […] new obsession – I’m so happy to find another great recipe for papaya (after our great baked papaya in sweet coconut cream from the Marshall Islands). In this drink, the soft sweetness of papaya mixed with the bright […]

  2. […] its way onto the dinner table. While the sweet flesh of ripe papaya is grand (perhaps baked with sweet coconut cream?), pawpaw curry is made with the mild, firm flesh of an unripe […]

Speak Your Mind