If, during your Hawaii visit, it will at any point be Tuesday, and if, by chance, you have taste buds, then you’re going to need the full rundown on the malasada situation.
These are sinfully delicious pastries mostly resembling, but arguably surpassing, donuts. Malasadas are similarly made with a yeast dough, but the dough is typically eggier and includes milk - something that is true of many, but not all, regular donuts. Perhaps most importantly they also, in a stroke of genius, don’t have a hole. In other words, the fried dough is richer, and you get more of it. This allows for common fillings, like custard, coconut, or even pineapple, guava, and other tropical fruit flavors.
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Why Tuesday? Well, to answer that, we have to briefly summarize the story of how these underappreciated treasures made their way onto the Hawaiian Islands in the first place.
Malasada is actually a Portuguese compound word, which roughly translates to “badly baked.” The malasada originated in the Madeira region of Portugal, supposedly in order to serve the stomach-rumbling but artery-clenching purpose of using up all the leftover butter and sugar before the start of Lent - which always starts on a Wednesday.
They made their way to Hawaii when Portuguese laborers started working on island plantations in the late 19th century. Today, Hawaii is a rare hub for these “badly baked” delights. They can be hard to find in most parts of the world, including the rest of the United States, and most people have probably never even heard of them. However, in Hawaii, they’re everywhere; and although the tradition of “Fat Tuesday” lives on and forms a kind of annual “malasada season” before Easter, many if not most local bakeries offer them year-round.
This is your guide to finding those glorious places.
We start, sensibly enough, with the island you’re most likely to be visiting - the tourist epicenter that is Oahu.
Right in the heart of Honolulu, at 933 Kapahulu Ave; from 5:30 in the morning until 7 at night, every single day of week; you will find an absolutely iconic malasada experience. Leonard’s Bakery has been stomping on the bliss point for more than half a century and has played no small role in the popularization of malasadas as a signature Hawaiian treat.
Also in Honolulu is the much visited, very much talked about bakeshop and creamery known as Pipeline While Leonard’s may be a classic, this place is where the mad scientists of malasada innovation seem to be congregating and conspiring. Most famously this is the home of the Malamode - a malasada that is wrapped around homemade ice cream. You’ll find all kinds of other wild and creative treats here too.
The Big Island
Next up is the Island of Hawaii. Here you can once again find unexpected innovations in the world of malasadas, if you know where to look.
The Big Island has several KTA Superstores throughout the island - in Hilo, Waimea, and multiple in the Kona region. The bakeries in these superstores, believe it or not, are in fact a jackpot for supreme malasadas; not only that, but extreme, wacky malasadas too.
Most are available year-round, including flavors like Taro (somewhat like sweet potato) and Chantilly (whipped cream). When “malasada season” starts coming around in late winter and “Fat Tuesday” approaches, they go all out, making numerous renditions of malasadas including passionfruit, banana, even BLT!
If you’re aiming for more of a traditional malasada experience, you can find that here too. The Punalu'u Bakeshop proudly proclaims itself to be the “southernmost bakeshop in the US,” which, given its location at the bottom of the Big Island, is geographically probable. It’s also a delicious place to stop if you’re visiting Volcanoes National Park, a south Big Island must-see.
Towards the south of the island in Kihei, Maui has its own locally owned bake shop to rival even Leonard’s in terms of its originality and classic vibe. Sugar Beach Bake Shop is tiny, but big flavors come out of it every day, and in many varieties - not just malasadas. However, the malasadas are the showstoppers.
Towards the north in the quaint town of Makawao, a local favorite is T Komoda Store and Bakery. In particular their guava malasadas are raved about. You could say this bakery is a bit “old-school,” meaning, among other things, they don’t have a website. However, you’re sure to find them if you just go to 3674 Baldwin Ave in Makawao. They’re closed Sundays and Wednesdays, and open 7 am to 3 pm every other day except Saturday, which is 7 to 2.
Believe it or not, the smallest and typically most rugged of the 4 main islands recently pulled off a David-and-Goliath-level upset. Lihue’s little local bake shop, the modestly-named Kauai Bakery, was voted this year by readers of Hawaii Magazine to have the best malasadas in the whole malasada-loaded state. This dealt a stunning defeat to the reigning champion, Leonard’s on Oahu, and has been repeatedly described by Hawaii Magazine as nothing short of a “dethroning.”
What more needs to be said about malasadas on Kauai, or where, on such a small island, you should probably get them?
It doesn’t matter which island, or (of course with respect for the religious traditions associated) what time of year you’re there. You can find and eat these crazily mouthwatering super treats; and you’ll be glad you did. Remember: this is a cultural experience, and a fairly unique opportunity amid travel.
Eating malasadas is not something you necessarily do every day, but it’s also something you are almost guaranteed not to have the chance to do most days anyway. Dive in. Taste the flavors and colors of the island. We hope you savor every second of it.