Today, in Hawaii, is Malasada Tuesday. Elsewhere, you may know the last day before the Catholic tradition of Lent begins as Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday or Maradi Gras.
I started my Malasada Tuesday Taste-Testing Tour of Kauai by myself. The day ended with help from my friend Susan and a black-and-white dog. Here’s how it went.
1. First stop: “The Malasada Lady” in a wooden shack outside Kauai’s only Big Kmart store in Lihue. The line followed the sidewalk toward the big box retailer’s own doors. A few minutes earlier, Marlena Bunao, a.k.a. “The Malasada Lady” had emerged from standing over her boiling cauldron of oil to report that she was running out of her sweet malasada dough and there may be a chance, a good chance, that we’d stand in line for upwards of an hour and finally step up to her counter to be told that the person in front of us snagged the very last malasada.
That explained the “stink eye” I received when I hopped the line and joined my friend Susan, about mid-way to the goal. “Susan,” I whispered, “I just want one.” She nodded, and I took a few pictures of the line and went back to my car to take a phone call.
Susan spent approximately 50 minutes in line chatting with a group of visitors in front of her. She answered their questions about Kauai and gave them restaurant recommendations. And when Susan finally stepped up to counter, happy to see that there were still malasadas to be eaten, her new friends handed her two—two—bags of malasadas of three each. Their treat, they said.
Malasadas first made their way to Hawaii by way of Portuguese immigrants who worked Hawaii’s plantations, starting in the late-1800s. The tasty treat originated on another island, this one in archipelago of the Azores Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Malasadas have always reminded me of oversized “doughnut holes,” only instead of glazed, they are rolled in sugar. They also remind me of the doughnuts that my mother made when I was a child—what we called then and what would be considered politically incorrect now, “Indian doughnuts.”
Susan joined me—and my two dogs—in the car. The brown paper bag in which the malasadas sat was already stained with oil. I could feel the heat of the round Portuguese doughnuts radiating through the paper. I pulled one malasada out of the bag. The round ball of dough was coated in sugar and fried to a dark-but-not-burnt brown. I bit into the doughnut. Sugar crystals ringed my mouth and sprinkled the front of my shirt. The outside of the malasada crunched the tiniest bit between my teeth. And the inside, oh, the inside. It practically melted in my mouth.
“That was good,” I said to Susan, who had violated her no-carbs diet to help me on this assignment—she’s a good friend—and wiped my face of sugar.
2. Next: Kauai Bakery. Susan had already picked up our malasadas from Kauai Bakery. She reported that there was no line. That they were pre-made. That they were not even hot. But they were golden brown and beautiful.
I took a bite. More sugar rained down my shirtfront. And I took another bite.
“Look inside,” Susan said and pointed out the pastry’s fluffy insides.
Good, we both agreed about the malasadas from Kauai Bakery, but maybe better hot.
On Oahu, the bakery known as Leonard's is recognized as the first commercial bakery to sell malasadas. And sell them, and other pastries, they have. Earlier this year, Leonard's celebrated its 54th year in business.
3. And, so we moved on: Hanalima Baking in Puhi. On a regular day, the cashier told us, they make three dozen malasadas a day. Today, however, they bumped the output up to 30-some dozen. Like Kauai Bakery, there was no line here. Again, the malasadas were pretty, golden-brown and sitting behind glass in a pastry display. They looked much like those from Kauai Bakery, but they tasted much different. The insides were much denser, much like chomping into sugar-coated sandwich bread. Susan took one bite and gave the rest to my dog, Nickel, who politely turned up her nose at it. Nickel is not the proverbial chow-hound. Unlike her sister.
Lulu, a three-year-old, black-and-white heeler mix is new to the family, and, I am learning, not to be trusted in the car with food. While Susan and I picked out our malasadas inside Hanalima Baking, Lulu helped herself to my two remaining malasadas from The Malasada Lady. By the time we returned to the car, not a morsel of malasada remained and not a sprinkle of sugar stuck to Lulu’s muzzle. Dogs.
4. Final stop: Kapaa Nail & Tanning Salon. No, not for a pedicure but for yet more malasadas. Every Malasada Tuesday, the women who typically work in the salon arrive at 3:30 a.m. and begin frying malasadas. This year, they rolled up with eight tubs of malasada dough. When Susan and I arrived, just before noon, they were emptying their sixth tub. And when I say tub, I don’t mean a large or, even, oversized Tupperware container. I mean a 30-gallon Rubbermaid storage box. The head fryer said she gets 260 doughnuts out of a box, and she fully expected to sell out. That would be 2,080 malasadas for the day, and I ate two—two, because, even after already eating two-and-a-half malasadas, these were that good and one was not enough.
Like The Malasada Lady’s these were fried to a dark, golden brown and served hot. The outside crunched and the inside went all gooey. These also had an extra taste that I had not detected in the others. Something that I can only—strangely—describe as citrus. More specifically, orange. Maybe tamarind.
“What’s the secret?” I asked.
The women looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. Finally, one said, “We Portagee,” the rest of the women laughed and laughed and laughed.
“Is it the oil?” I probed.
“No, the oil comes from Costco.” someone said.
“It’s the dough,” another one said.
“This is my favorite place,” Susan declared.
I couldn’t decide between the malasadas from the nail techs and those from The Malasada Lady. And that’s why I ate a second one. But, even after two, I couldn’t decide my favorite. What’s interesting is that I almost didn’t stop here, because last year the malasadas sold by these very same nail techs tasted too greasy. Like the oil needed to be changed. And maybe it did. But that was last year.
While my Malasada Tuesday Taste-Testing Tour of Kauai didn’t yield a definitive favorite, what I did learn this year is that I can’t judge a place by one malasada, or by one year. Just like some days my writing flows and some days it doesn’t. Some days Lulu is an angel and some days she’s slightly less than angelic. I almost bypassed the mysteriously delicious offering by the nail techs this year because of last year’s experience. So, in the end, what all this means is that I have to hit them ALL again next year.
And, now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to curl up in a ball and take a nap. Like Lulu.