In New Orleans, today is known as Fat Tuesday. In Hawaii, the day before lent is called Malasada Day. Generally speaking, the day is considered the last chance for chocolate and doughnuts and pie, for those who partake in the Christian tradition of Lent and give up sweets for 40 days.
During Hawaii’s plantation days, in one last hoorah--so the story goes--the Portuguese community cleaned out all the butter and sugar from their cupboards and made big batches of a yeast-based dough, from which golf-ball-sized chunks were then deep-fried in oil and dipped in sugar. They shared these doughnut-like confections with everyone—neighbors, friends and family.
Today, the plantations are gone but the tradition continues, albeit slightly modified. Malasada Day has turned into a fundraising opportunity for school groups and sports teams. Energetic entrepreneurs set up tables outside retail establishments and fry up the dough balls while standing in the hot sun. Of course, a few bakeries make the Portuguese doughnut year-round and some even fill them with crème, chocolate and, borrowed from the Japanese culture, even black bean paste, but, today, they’ll have a line outside their doors as people pick up a dozen to take to the office.
I like my malasadas traditional-style—no filling and coated in sugar. My favorite purveyors are Kauai Bakery in Kukui Grove Shopping Center and Marlena Bunao, a.k.a. the “Malasada Lady,” outside Big Kmart in Lihue.
This morning, driving through Kapaa, a large banner reading “Malasadas” caught my eye. I’d seen this sign for many years before on Fat Tuesday but had yet to stop. For $4, I was given a brown paper bag filled with six plain malasadas—no filling, no sugar coating. I ate one but was less than satisfied. So, I pulled into the parking lot of Sweet Marie’s, a gluten-free bakery but, alas, Marie does not do the malasada thing. She offered me muffins instead, but I had malasada on my mind and a muffin—no matter how yummy she truly does make her gluten-free muffins—wouldn’t do.
I debated driving another 20 minutes to Lihue but the pull of my to-do list drove me the other direction—back to my desk. I guess I’ll have to wait until next year to get my malasada fix.
Unless, of course, I find myself on Oahu before then—very likely. Or in Honokaa on Big Island—possible. Leonard’s Bakery on Oahu and Tex Drive-In on Big Island specialize in malasadas.