Hawaiian Malsadas: An Island Dessert

It is no secret that I am a nerd. I love books, comics, manga, and video games. One of my very first video game franchises was Pokemon. I loved it back in 1998 with Pokemon Blue and I still love it today. Among my favorite Pokemon games are Sun and Moon. In the game, one of the characters is obsessed with malasadas. He made them sound so good!

When I first played the games, I had a vague idea that malasadas were a real food, but I had never heard of them before. Each of the Pokemon games is based off a real-life location. While the Pokemon food is often fictional (like poffins and aprijuice), the human food is often a reference to real-life local cuisine. In Pokemon Sun and Moon, the highlighted food were malasadas. My curiosity peaked, I began diving into the mystery of malasadas.

Malasadas are a suger-dusted Portuguese doughnut that are a regular treat in Hawaii. The dessert was introduced to the islands by Azores and Madeira workers in the 19th Century. There are many variations of malasadas, including original (no filling), chocolate, guava, haupia (Hawaiian coconut milk dessert), and custard. They became so popular that today, rather than celebrating Fat Tuesday with pancake dinners, Hawaiian residents recognize Malasada Day!

A few years ago I made my first trip to Oahu. One my goals was to find malasadas. Once off the plane, I made a bee-line for Leonard’s Bakery. In the weeks prior, I spent hours researching the best malasadas on Oahu. From reviews from Hawai’i Magazine to Oahu Facebook groups, blog after blog directed me to Leonard’s. Even the in-flight magazine on Hawaiian Airlines had an article about Leonard’s Bakery! All of the glowing reviews built up the hype for this small bakery. I hoped that it lived up to the hype.

In 2011, KITV helped celebrate Leonard’s Bakery’s 54th Anniversary. Watch this interview with Frank Leonard Rego Jr to see inside Leonard’s kitchen and the process to make delicious malasadas.
Leonard’s Bakery is a small establishment. There isn’t much room to eat the malasadas on site. In house eating isn’t missed, though, with all of the gorgeous city parks and beaches nearby.

For all of the attention that it receives, Leonard’s Bakery is housed in a small, unassuming building. On Kapahulu Ave about a mile and a half from the beach, Leonard’s Bakery sits at the end of a small parking lot with room for about ten cars. There are a couple of tables outside, but the majority of patrons take their goodies to go. I soon learned that long lines are a regular occurrence at Leonard’s, regardless of the time of day. Regulars were accustomed to the wait, and there was a sense of camaraderie as I took my place in line.

All of Leonard’s malasadas are made fresh to order and are well worth the wait! The fresh, hot bread almost melts in your mouth, complimented by the rich fillings. Traditional malasadas are just the deep-fried bread coated in sugar. But just as original donuts evolved into a wide range of flavors and toppings, so have malasadas. Leonard’s Bakery lets you choose your coating (none, sugar, cinnamon sugar, and li hing) as well as the filling (none, custard, dobash (chocolate), haupia, macadamia nut, and guava). All of the flavors were amazing (yes, I definitely went back many times across the trip), but my favorite combination was a sugar coated malasada filled with haupia.

After returning to the mainland, I was sad that I could not find malasadas anywhere. Not to be deterred, I took to the internet to figure out how to make them myself! After trying several recipes, I found Fix Feast Flair’s Malasada Recipe to be a pretty close comparison to the malasadas I got on the islands. Their recipe also includes instructions to make several different fillings, including chocolate, haupia, and strawberry.

My three year long quest to try malasadas, from when Pokemon Sun and Moon was first released in 2016, had come to an end. I walked away from it with an appreciation of donuts and a new favorite dessert!

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