Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Taste of Travel: Hawaiian Delight

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Honolulu, Leonard’s Bakery is the home to a food that has enjoyed a culinary version of the American Dream.

Not unlike donuts, malasadas are deep-fried pastry puffs coated in cinnamon and sugar or stuffed with tasty fillings. Originally part of the traditional Portuguese celebration of Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday), malasadas immigrated to Hawaii in the early 1950s, when Leonard DoRego opened his bakery, and were an instant success.

It took me seven trips to Hawaii before a local turned me on to the small establishment off the beaten tourist path. I’m not much for breakfast – usually preferring more sleep – but he convinced me over ahi tuna steaks and margaritas that it was something I simply couldn’t miss.

When I walked up to the front of the innocuous building the following morning, it had the look and feel of a local favorite. The workers greeted me and my family with an enthusiastic “Aloha” and let us look over the selection. They had the whole pastry spectrum covered, from Danish tea cakes to run-of-the-mill glazed donuts, but I was there for malasadas.

I don’t remember exactly how much they were, but it was something like 40 cents each. I went for the standard sugar-coated one and one with a cream filling. My parents and sister each got a couple, and we decided to eat them in the car on the way to climb Diamond Head.

I picked up one of the fresh-baked malasadas, feeling the warmth in my hand as we passed palm trees and beaches with Diamond Head looming in the distance. I took my first bite, and was instantly hooked. The plain one wasn’t too heavy, with a nice airy taste to it as it melted in my mouth. The cream-filled one was also excellent, but the original one was better. They were, in a word, delicious. They rival even the best French croissant.

After returning home, malasadas joined the sandy beaches and pristine big-sky feel of Hawaii in the corridors of memory. I had never seen them on the mainland, and didn’t expect to. It was, therefore, a surprise earlier this week when I was eating at an L&L Hawaiian Barbecue restaurant to hear that I could order them less than a quarter of a mile from home.

From a Portuguese tradition to a Hawaiian favorite, malasadas now grace the mainland, and I couldn’t be happier.

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