For two generations of travelers to Oahu, the must-take omiyage has been Leonard’s malasadas: deep-fried, sugar-dusted sweet dough. Step off a plane on the neighbor islands without a grease-stained box and your relatives’ shoulders slump disappointedly.
The bakery was founded by the late Leonard and Margaret Rego in 1952. Lenny Rego, Jr., family spokesman and chief recipe tinkerer, says that, back in the 1960s, his dad would bring home samples of new recipes.
“I was just a kid but, believe it or not, my advice is what he’d go with,” recalled the younger Rego, who is still searching for “overall awesomeness.”
Though similar confections are made elsewhere, the word malasada appears to be specific to Hawaii (in other Portuguese countries, ask for filoses, “strings,” a reference to the stretching action of yeast on flour; or sonhos, “dreams”).
Ironically, given how delicious they are, the term means poorly (mal) cooked (asada), or, by implication, half-cooked, a reference to the just-this-side-of-raw doughy interior.
Leonard’s continues to innovate, having added to their line over the years cinnamon-sugar sprinkles, pudding-stuffed malasada puffs, malasada “babies” and a fleet of mobile malasada wagons.
Overall awesomeness, indeed.