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Donuts are not my thing but I make an exception for Hawaiian donuts known as malasadas.
It’s so hard to make a good donut — freshly fried, airy, sweet but not too — that I’ve only come across a few that I really truly love (I’m talking to you, Sidecar Donuts!).
But, when it comes to malasadas aka the fried donut treats you find all over Hawai’i? Well, then I’m an equal-opportunity eater. Okay, I still want them freshly fried and well made but there’s something about eating a malasada that’s just so Hawai’i to me that I can’t say no. Which is ironic because they’re actually not even from Hawai’i.
Local Food To Eat In Hawai’i
But if you only try one of those classic local foods, you gotta make sure to indulge in malasadas. So, next time you head to Hawai’i, promise me you’ll have at least a dozen all on your own.
Get To Know Hawaiian Donuts
Here’s everything you need to know about the Hawaiian donuts known as malasada — as in what makes a good malasada and where to find the best malasadas in Hawai’i:
So, What Is A Malasada?
Okay, yes, technically a malasada is a Hawaiian donut but that’s like calling a Ferrari a car — really just not the whole story.
The malasada is a yeasted donut but it a is distinct from other yeasted donuts in a few specific ways. First, a malasada has no hole; second, it’s relatively “eggy” in flavor; third, evaporated milk is used; and fourth, they have an-ever so slightly crisp exterior. Finally, they’re usually — but not always — coated in sugar.
From there the variations are endless especially when it comes to fillings. In Hawai’i, you’ll find tropical-flavored custards such as haupia (coconut), liliko’i (passionfruit), guava, or pineapple. Macadamia or classic flavors like vanilla and chocolate are also common. Note that malasada purists will argue that you should only eat them “plain” (aka unfilled).
And then there’s the coating. At their most basic, malasadas are rolled in sugar but you can also find versions rolled in cinnamon sugar, or the most extreme coating IMO,the sweet-salty-tangy li hing mui (salty dried plum) powder.
The History Of The Hawaiian Donut
The malasada hails from Portugal and was brought to Hawai’i when Portuguese immigrants flocked to Hawaii to work the plantations in the 19th century.
Originally, these Hawaiian donuts known as malasadas were really only made for special occasions and they were especially associated with the Lent holiday. These days malasadas are everywhere and we have Leonard Rego to thank for that.
Back in 1952, Leonard opened Leonard’s Bakery on Kapahulu Street in Honolulu, and, seeing as he was of Portuguese descent, he decided to sell malasadas. From the start the malasadas were a huge success. In fact, they were so popular, they’ve been frying them up fresh at Leonard’s ever since. To this day, Leonard’s has lines from opening to closing.
Where To Get The Best Hawaiian Donuts In Hawai’i
You’ll come across malasadas at a ton of places across the islands, so, to narrow your search, you should ask locals for their favorites. You want them to be freshly fried and, as a general rule, a place that specialize in malasadas make them best.
I’m partial to the haupia custard-filled one from Leonard’s, but here are a few other favorites across the state.
- Tex Drive-In, Honoka’a, Hawai’i (aka Big Island)
- T. Komoda Store & Bakery, Makawao, Maui
- Hanalima Bakery, Līhu’e, Kaua’i
Got any other malasada spots you love in Hawai’i? Let us know in the comments below!
More Hawai’i Food Tips
Want to get to know local food in Hawai’i better? Check these out:
- Eat Local In Hawai’i With These Immersive Food Experiences
- Local Food Terms To Know Before Visiting Hawai’i
- Where To Get The Best Shave Ice In Hawai’i
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Illustration Credit: Charmagne Kringstein
Hawaiian Diacritical Marks: In an effort to be accurate and respectful of the Hawaiian language, we use diacritical marks in our articles on the region. For more about which marks are used in the language and how to find proper spelling, refer to this Hawai’i Magazine article.