There is nothing better to talk about on Valentine’s Day than sweet things. This is not exactly chocolate and flowers, but it’s just as sweet, if not sweeter.
I’m talking about malasadas, which are essentially fried dough balls coated with granulated sugar, though modern renditions have added a variety of flavored coatings and fillings from guava to custard. Malasadas are akin to beignets, only with Portuguese origins, specifically from the Madeira islands. When Portuguese laborers from Madeira came to Hawaii to work in the plantations in 1878, they naturally brought along with them the tradition of making and sharing malasadas with friends and loved ones. 135 years later, I find myself thanking the course of history for enabling the spread of amazing local delicacies to the most unexpected places.
People here take malasadas so seriously that Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday) has been renamed to Malasada Day because the Madeira people have a tradition of making malasadas on that day. The reason for this, according to Wikipedia, is related to the need to get rid of butter and lard before Lent. In addition to sweet, I should mention that malasadas are also quite fattening, which is apt for Fat Tuesday.
There is one bakery here that is practically synonymous with malasadas, and chances are you’ve heard of it if you’ve been to Oahu: Leonard’s Bakery. It is ridiculously popular among locals and tourists alike, and consequently I’ve never not seen it with a line out the door even though I’ve gone at different times of the day. For some time I thought that Leonard’s Bakery was the pinnacle of traditional malasadas, but last week I was happily proven wrong not once, but twice.Twice because I ate four malasadas from two different places in one day, for which I did not feel any sense of guilt or regret – working out can always be done the next day, right?
The first place was Ono Steaks at Waimanalo, which used to be a simple yellow food truck across the street from the Waimanalo Beach Park known for succulent garlic shrimp and other delicious plate lunches. However, recently they’ve upgraded to a brick and mortar business just around the corner of their old location. The malasadas here are cooked to order, which for us took about 20 minutes for a dozen and worth every second of the wait. The dough is fresh, moist, and spongy in the best way possible because it is not wet or undercooked as you would think something that is too doughy would be. The outer layer is crispy to perfection and coated with an unbelievable amount of sugar; maybe a little bit too much if it were on any other dish, but for malasadas, the ultimate sweetness makes sense. They reheat fine in the microwave without loosing their original texture, which is another reason that they win over Leonard’s malasadas. $5.50 will get you half a dozen of these heavenly dough balls.
The second place where I ate another malasada winner is at the annual Punahou Carnival. The carnival itself probably deserves its own blog post since it’s already on Yelp. In a nutshell, it’s a tradition that the Punahou private school (where Obama went to) has maintained since 1932 through which the community has enjoyed years of fun, rides, games, and of course, carnival food (although unlike other carnivals I’ve been to, this one also served stir fry noodles and and mango chutney). I’m sure the carnival gives many locals a sense of pride and heritage that has been carried down from generation to generation, but I came mainly for its legendary malasadas. What did I say about malasadas being taken seriously here? My boyfriend and I heard about the famous Punahou malasadas from several sources who have all grown up in Hawai’i, so despite already having two malasadas earlier in the day I did not want to wait another year to try Punahou’s. I’m glad I was quick on my decision, because these malasadas are out of this world good. They are fluffy and airy with an amount of sugar that no one can complain about because it is neither too much nor too little, and they give the perfect crunch in your mouth when you bite into them. I inhaled two immediately – I’d never felt more like a happy fat kid than that time I ate malasadas at the Punahou carnival.
That’s my journey thus far with malasadas, and I don’t think I am anywhere close to the end. So if you have a favorite malasada spot to share, please leave a comment!
933 Kapahulu Ave Honolulu, HI 96816
Wailea Street, just off the Kalanianaole Highway
Waimanalo, HI 96795
1601 Punahou St
Honolulu, HI 96822
Punahou Carnival photos by Photolulu.