Mardi Gras is a holiday with roots in the Christian calendar. The story begins with Christmas. Twelve days after Christmas is the Epiphany (January 6), when the Magi or Wise Men from the East were said to follow a bright star to Bethlehem, bringing the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ child. Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season.
After the Epiphany begins Carnival season (or Carnaval in other languages, such as Portuguese and French). Carnival lasts until Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, a time of fasting, denial, repentance, and almsgiving for Christians. Lent lasts 40 days until the Easter season. So, Mardi Gras is one last night of overindulgence in food, drinking, and revelry before the paucity of the Lenten season.
Commonly called Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”), the holiday is also known as Pancake Day (primarily in the British Isles) and elsewhere as Shrove* Tuesday. *”Shrove” is past tense of the verb “shrive”, which means to free from guilt or confess one’s sins.
Mardi Gras 2023 is Tuesday, February 21.
Mardi Gras traditions
New Orleans may be the country’s most celebrated location for Fat Tuesday even though Mardi Gras was first celebrated in the U.S. in Mobile, Alabama. In any case NOLA Mardi Gras traditions today include King Cakes, parades, masks, and beads. The colors of Mardi Gras are purple (justice), green (faith), and gold (power). Everything from masks to beads and cakes will bear these colors.
- “King” cakes represent the gifts brought by the Magi. Typically, this is a glazed or frosted circular cake iced or sugared with Mardi Gras colors (purple, green, gold). A bean, coin, nut, or tiny baby figurine may be hidden in the cake–some say to represent the Baby Jesus. It brings luck to whoever finds it in their slice.
- Parades and elaborate costumed and masked balls are another feature during Carnaval, celebrated in places such as France, Italy, Brazil, and Canada.
- Masks are worn by parade participants and at Mardi Gras balls, historically to hide their identity and/or escape social constraints, allowing them to mingle freely with whomever they chose.
- Beads are thrown from parade floats. Other trinkets are also used, including coins (real, plastic, or candy), stuffed animals, and unique hand-decorated items.
Malasada Day = Mardi Gras
In Hawaiʻi, we do things a bit differently. Malasadas have been around since the 1800s when Portuguese plantation workers brought their sweet bread to Hawaiʻi. As the story goes, Leonard and Margaret Rego, owners of Leonard’s Bakery (“Home of Malasada’s and Pao Doce”) started “Malasada Day” back in the 1950s. Leonard’s mother suggested making malasadas for Shrove Tuesday, a Portuguese tradition. The rest is history. Today, Mardi Gras is Leonard’s busiest day of the year.
For the uninitiated: malasadas are Portuguese-style donuts without holes. They can be square or round. Classic malasadas are simply rolled in sugar. But they are also found coated with other flavors, including cinnamon, cocoa, li hing mui (salted plum powder), and others. Malasadas with creamy or fruit fillings are also available, such as haupia (coconut), dobash (chocolate), lilikoi (passionfruit)—probably my three favorites! Find malasadas at bakeries and eateries across the Hawaiian Islands, some specializing in the sweet treat. They are also a popular fundraiser. More info: 37 delicious Hawaiian foods are paradise in your mouth – Hawaiʻi on the Cheap (hawaiionthecheap.com)
Where to get malasadas in Hawaiʻi
Listed below are some popular places to get malasadas (Portuguese-style donuts) on Malasada Day or any other day of the year. This is by no means a complete list. Many bakeries, eateries, and food trucks also offer malasadas.
(Listed by island, then alphabetically by city or location.)
Hawaiʻi. Tex Drive In (Honokaʻa)
Hawaiʻi. Punaluʻu Bake Shop (Naalehu)
Kauaʻi. Kauaʻi Bakery (Lihue)
Maui. Sugar Beach Bakeshop (Kihei, Wailuku)
Maui. Donut Dynamite (Wailuku)
Oʻahu. Liliha Bakery (5 locations in greater Honolulu). Their haupia malasada is my all-time favorite.
Oʻahu. Pipeline Bakeshop (Kaimuki)
Oʻahu. Leonard’s Bakery (1 store: Moiliʻili/Kaimukī, 4 malasadamobiles: Waipahu, Aiea, Koko Marina, Kāneʻohe)