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Vol. 16, no. 1
February/March 2013


Malassada Gras 

Story by Shantel Grace

Photo by Matt Mallams


When Fat Tuesday rolls
around this February, so will thousands of Portuguese doughnuts. For some in Honolulu the last hurrah before the Catholic Lenten holiday means drunken revelry and Big Easy bacchanalia. For others it means stuffing themselves full of fluffy, deep-fried balls of dough dusted in white sugar. That’s right, Fat Tuesday is Malasada Day in Honolulu.                          


The centuries-old Portuguese tradition of gorging oneself on Madeiran pastries before the long, dry, pastry-free days of Lent made its way to Hawai‘i in the late 1870s, when Portuguese laborers emigrated to the Islands to work on sugar plantations. Each year on the day before Ash Wednesday, cupboards filled with sugar and lard would be emptied to make enormous batches of malassadas, which would then be shared piping hot throughout the Islands’ Portuguese communities. Among those immigrants were Arsenio and Amelia DoRego, who sailed from San Miguel Island to Maui in 1882 and whose grandson Leonard founded Leonard’s Bakery thirty-three years later.


Story has it that Leonard’s mother suggested he make malassadas for Shrove Tuesday shortly after the Kapahulu bakery opened in Kapahulu in 1952. Leonard felt the Portuguese sweet bread was “too ethnic” for Hawai‘i, but he tried anyway and to his surprise the golden puffs turned out to be a hit. People lined up in droves, and before long Leonard had coined the term “Malasada Day” (dropping an “s” from the Portuguese word while he was at it).


Today Leonard’s malassadas are among Hawai‘i’s most famous and beloved treats. The traditional malassada remains the most popular, but that hasn’t stopped the bakery from experimenting with new flavors tucked inside the its trademark puffs, fillings like mango, liliko‘i and guava. How many malassadas will they sell this holiday? “It’s impossible to say,” says Leonard’s current manager, Darlene Young. “We keep as many ingredients on hand as possible. We expect people to be lined up out the door.” If you can’t make it to Kapahulu on Tuesday, February 12, or if the prospect of long lines sounds too daunting, you can keep your eyes peeled for one of Leonard’s two red-and-white-striped Malasadamobiles, which will be roaming O‘ahu, as they do every day of the week, from Waipahu to Windward Mall in Kane‘ohe.