Malasada Day

The day before Ash Wednesday (when the Christian season of Lent begins) is known as Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday. It is celebrated as Mardi Gras in places influenced by French culture, like the bawdy celebrations down in New Orleans. But in Hawaii, it has another name: Malasada Day.

Happy Malasada Day in Hawaii

Leonard Jr's Malasada Stand Waikele


What is a Malasada?

A malasada (also spelled malassada, malaçada, or called filho) is a fried, sugar-coated Portuguese donut. It is an eggy, yeasty bread, meant to use up all the fat and sugar in a household before Lent begins. Originating in the Azores, it was brought overseas to Hawaii and other Portuguese Azorean communities.

In typical Hawaiian melting pot fashion, the Portuguese laborers shared their traditional food with the other immigrant communities, and so the love of malasadas spread. Nowadays, people in Hawaii enjoy malasadas year-round, not just on Fat Tuesday. Still, more malasadas are sold on Malasada Day than probably any other day of the year.

Leonard’s Malasada

Leonard's Malasada Yokohama

Famous Fried conFection

The most famous place to find malasadas in Hawaii is Leonard’s Bakery on Kapahulu Avenue. This bakery, open since 1952, is known for its malasadas and Portuguese sweet bread. Leonard’s malasadas are thick, round balls without any hole through the middle. Any trip to Honolulu would be incomplete without at least one trip to Leonard’s for some malasadas, hot out of the oil.

I say “at least one trip” because these malasadas are so good, you’ll want to go back for more!

Leonard’s Bakery, Kapahulu

Leonard's Malasadas Kapahulu

Other reviews of Leonard’s malasadas: Ono Kine Grindz, The Tasty Island, Food and Life, The Urban Grocer, The Portland Pickle

Go West (for Malasadas)

On our recent trip to Hawaii, we had malasadas on three separate occasions. One of those was when we were out shopping at the Waikele Premium Outlets on the West side of Oahu. We had shopped past lunch time and were pretty famished, but we needed something quick to tide us over, lest we run into rush hour traffic on the way back home. Luckily, Leonard’s has a malasada stand set up next to the Old Navy store. It was doing a brisk business when we got there.

Leonard’s Malasada Stand, Waikele

Leonard Jr's Malasadas Waikele

Leonard’s coats their malasadas in three different kinds of granulated sugar: regular white (bottom), cinnamon sugar (middle), or li hing sugar (top). The li hing (dried Chinese salty plum) flavor can be used in lots of things (see our li hing margarita or sake poached pear recipes) but it didn’t go that well with malasadas. Pomai from Tasty Island agrees.

Champion is the Contender

Another bakery which is a contender for the title of having the Best Malasada in Hawaii is Champion Malasadas on Beretania Street.

Champion Malasadas, McCully

Champion Malasadas

Champion’s malasadas are similar in size and shape to the Leonard’s ones. Probably because the baker at Champion’s used to work at Leonard’s. But the malasadas at Champion are eggier, not as airy, and more dense. If you bite into a Leonard’s malasada, the donut will flatten and not recover. But Champion’s malasada has a “spring” to it.

Many people (including Rasa Malaysia, Kat, and Joz Joz Joz) feel that Champion’s malasada is better than Leonard’s. It probably helps that the owner fries the malasada for you while you wait. The folks at Wow Grinds did a blind malasada taste test which named Leonard’s as #1. Me, I like Leonard’s.

Malasadas All Over

Portuguese from the Azores didn’t just land on Hawaii’s shores. There is a sizeable Portuguese community in the Bay Area, most notably the Five Wounds neighborhood in San Jose (centered around the Five Wounds Catholic Church on Santa Clara Street). There are a number of Portuguese bakeries there, but there is only one named Portuguese Bakery, and it’s actually located on El Camino Real in nearby Santa Clara.

Portuguese Bakery, Santa Clara

Portuguese Bakery Santa Clara malasada filho

Here, they also sell malasadas. But the malasadas from Portuguese Bakery are flat, uneven discs. The crust is crispier and the dough chewier than what we know in Hawaii.

Taste of Home in Japan

When we were in Japan, we found a Leonard’s malasada stand inside the World Porters Mall in Minato Mirai, Yokohama. It was an unexpected, but welcome, find. The taste was a little off – I think they overcooked it – but good nonetheless.

Leonard’s Malasadas, Minato Mirai, Yokohama

Leonard's Malasadas Yokohama

Other reviews of the Leonard’s Yokohama location by Kat and Tokyo Belly

Where else do can you find malasadas? Leave a comment and let us know!

Happy Malasada Day!

Daniel eating a malasada

Aloha, Nate

14 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Reason #10,694 why I love Hawaii! I’ll definitely seek out a malasada on my next visit. :-)

  2. emmy says:

    Never heard of malasadas until today, thanks for sharing. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for a Leonard’s in our corner of Japan :)

  3. kat says:

    thanks for the shout out! looks like you guys had a blast in Hawaii!

  4. You can’t go to the Punahou carnival without eating Leonard’s malasadas. Hey, I heard they have custard filled malasadas, etc.? Did you try any of those? I have to do a trip to Leonard’s on my next trip home. I never heard of Champion. That’s so against Oahu nature of just always having monopolies on the island. How can you compete with Leonards?

    • Nate says:

      Ben –

      Yeah, a little bummed that we missed the carnival. I love the Punahou carnival malasadas!

      We’ve tried the custard-filled malasada puffs on previous trips home. They’re all right. Leonard’s even has flavored custards. I still prefer the plain.

      Apparently, Champion competes very well against Leonard’s – they’ve won a few “best of Hawaii” public polls.

  5. 5 Star Foodie says:

    How fun to taste different Malasadas! I haven’t tried them but we did just have Fasnachts which are very similar.

  6. Polly Bee says:

    This is such a treat. Every country seem to have their style of “Donuts” and this look so much like the Russian Armenian ‘PONCHIK’ (sold at European Deli, Olsen Blvd, Sacramento inside Koreana Plaza Market) or my Polish friend’s ‘PATZKI’.
    And I know the bakery in Santa Clara. I am looking forward to it the next time I am over there.
    Have you made your own? Do you have your own recipe to make at home?

    • Nate says:

      Polly –

      thanks for commenting!

      We have not made our own malasadas yet. Not a big fan of deep frying. But if the craving for malasadas gets bad enough, we may have to attempt it ;-)

  7. I fondly remember always having one of these puffy, sugary wonders after a big ol’ plate lunch from Rainbow Drive-In! Never had one with li-hing powder, though. I missed out!

  8. Cheryl says:

    Don’t forget when you are on the windward side, stop in at “our” great Portuguese Bakery – “Agnes Bake Shop” in Kailua. They have delicious sweet bread, rolls, Malassadas and alot more! I prefer them to Champions! Leonards wagons sometimes gives you undercooked in the center….but visited their main Bakery, and it was good there. Loved the Punahou Carnival Malassadas this year! Ono too! I live in Kailua, and I just placed an order for their (Agnes) Easter bread (“Folar da Pascoa”) (sweetbread with the colored eggs peeking out)- they sell them for one person too – a small roll with one egg. FOr a family, it’s nice to give the large with 2 or 3 ? eggs. It’s sooo ONO! And makes a nice hostess gift, or to give the small one to someone living alone! Feliz Dia de Pascoa! c

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My Photo Annie is mistress of the kitchen while Nate is the master of the grill and smoker. We cook the homestyle Asian and Hawaiian foods of our younger days while also exploring the wider worlds of Western foods.

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