Hawaii: Malasadas

My husband and I were married in Hawaii. On the Big Island. He was stationed for six months in Japan at the time. After month three, he flew to Hawaii and met me there. (I had flown from Baltimore.) Hubby was actually born in Hawaii, so he knew his way around. One of the delightful Hawaiian things he introduced me to was Malasadas.

A malasada (or malassada) is a Portuguese confection. Pronounced “Mel-a-sa-dah”. They were first made by inhabitants of São Miguel Island, part of the Azores. Malasadas are made of egg-sized balls of yeast dough that are deep-fried in oil and coated with granulated sugar. A popular variation is where they are hand dropped into the oil and people have to guess what they look like. Traditional malasadas contain neither holes nor fillings, but some varieties of malasadas are filled with flavored cream or other fillings. Traditionally, the reason for making malasadas has been to use up all the lard and sugar in the house, traditionally forbidden during Lent. They are eaten especially on Fat Tuesday – the day before Ash Wednesday. Some families associate them with Mardi Gras. In 1878, Portuguese laborers from the Azores came to Hawaii to work in the plantations. These immigrants brought their traditional foods with them, including a fried dough pastry called the “malasada.” Today there are numerous bakeries in the Hawaiian islands specializing in malasadas. The most notable bakeries are on Oahu, with Leonard’s Bakery and Champion Malasadas in Honolulu at the top of the list. On the Big Island of Hawaii, the Tex Drive In[1] in Honoka’a is popular. The annual Punahou School Carnival is also a popular venue for malasadas.

You’re probably thinking, based on the image, that these are just donuts, right? Well, you’re right, sort of. I mean, every culture has their version of the donut..malasadas are Portugal’s and Hawaii’s. My sister-in-law from Colombia, calls them bunuelos. New Orleans calls them biegnets. While all these items are similar, they do differ in both taste, preparation, and texture.

The first time I tried the malasadas, my new husband and I were sitting at a bar in a mall in Oahu, where we spent a few days. Hubby saw a sign for malasadas in a nearby store and bought some for me to try. My eyes got big and sparkly upon first tasting these little guys. They were so good. So very very good. I told my husband to go and buy a box for me or risk losing me forever. He did, mainly because he liked them a lot too (why kid myself?)

A good recipe for these puppies can be found here. I’ve also heard that you can use store bought Pillsbury buttermilk biscuits, deep fry them, and sprinkle them with sugar. I tried it. They’re okay in a pinch, but don’t think you’ve tasted malasadas if you try it that way. Unfortuately, the best malasadas can only be found in Hawaii. It is, however, worth the trip.




  1. Christine said,

    October 20, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    Oooo – I love malasadas! I’ve only recently discovered them… We live in a *very* Portuguese-influenced area and I discovered if you get up early enough on Sunday, you can find a tray of fresh ones at the market. I may need to go to Hawaii though to compare!

    Oh, lucky you! You must live in the NorthEast…if only we had a Portuguese community here. Sigh…

  2. Elaine said,

    October 20, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    I wish eggs and dairy didn’t give me migraines! That recipe looks so, so good.

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