How a Portuguese donut became popular in Hawaii

Malasadas have been popular in the Atlantic Ocean island chains of the Azores and Madeira. But, the sweet treat is also a favorite over 7,000 miles away in a Pacific archipelago.

What is a malasada?

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Malasadas are fried yeast balls. Once cooked, they are covered in granulated sugar. Similar to a beignet, malasadas don’t have a hole and traditionally are not filled.

Malasadas originally came from Portugal. Specifically, the islands of the Azores and Madeira.

How malasadas came to Hawaii

The first Portuguese to come to Hawaii were seamen. They came to the south Pacific to hunt whales. A few stayed in the Hawaiian tropical paradise, but their numbers were very small.

Sugar cane had been grown on the islands of Portugal for hundreds of years. So, in the 1880’s, sugar cane plantation owners in Hawaii got a bright idea. They began recruiting workers from Madeira and the Azores to work the farms in Hawaii.

Thousands and thousands or Portuguese workers, along with their families, emigrated to Hawaii. By the end of the first decade of the new century, over 10% of the population of Hawaii was Portuguese.

And, since the workers brought their families, Portuguese cuisine, including the malasada, came with them. After all, they had tons of sugar to use!

Hawaiian Malasadas

As often happens when recipes travel to a new home, the malasada changed when it came to Hawaii. The main difference is that malasadas in Hawaii are often filled. You can find chocolate and custard filled malasadas but the best have a filling of Hawaiian fruit like guava and lilikoi (passionfruit).

In Hawaii, Shrove Tuesday is often called Malasada Tuesday. That was the day all the extra sugar and lard (or butter) was used up before Lent to make Malasadas.

Where to get Malasadas in Hawaii

Hawaii’s most famous bakery is Leonard’s. The grandson of a Portuguese sugar plantation worker, Leonard Rego opened his bakery in 1952. They serve delicious malasadas all year long, but Leonard’s really cranks out the pastry on Shrove Tuesday.

On the island of Kauai, VIP Treats & Sweets, hidden behind a shopping mall, makes malasadas fresh out of the fryer on Saturdays. Also on the island, Kauai Bakery does a nice malasada, too.

Author: Brent