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7 Hawai‘i Sweet Treats to Try


Outside of Leonard’s on Kapahulu Avenue

Leonard’s on Kapahulu Avenue. Has the best Malasadas.

BY: NATALIE SCHACK

There’s so much to see in Hawaii, from the majestic mountain ranges scraping their green tops against the clear, blue sky, to the wild, cresting waves, rushing in and out on the shore like some mesmerizing azure dance. It’s a beautiful feast for your eyes—but what about your tastebuds?

Don’t worry, your itinerary will be packed in that department as well. After all, here in the islands, life is sweet—and our vast array of local desserts can attest to it! Thanks to a “melting pot” of cultures that make up the diverse Hawaii community, you’ll find exotic influences from Japan to Portugal, and beyond, in the pastries, candies and desserts on offer.

We could fill an entire book—and days of eating!—describing the many ways islanders have managed to find a way to treat their sweet tooth, but for starters, here are a few of our favorites saccharine snacks. You won’t want to miss snagging at least a few of this scrumptious little treats

on your visit. Or, if you’re feeling generous, bringing some home for your loved ones. (If there are any left, that is!)

1. Malasadas

Deep-fried, fluffy balls of doughy, sugary goodness have made these Portuguese treats an island staple. Originally hailing from Portugal’s Azores Islands, malasadas have roots as a Fat Tuesday treat, something to tide one’s sweet tooth over before the long days of Lent. In Hawai‘i, we eat it all year round, and none are more famous than the ones at Leonard’s on Kapahulu Avenue. You’ll be sure not to miss it: just look for the vintage, neon sign, bright pink awning, and out-the-door line. Leonard’s Bakery, 933 Kapahulu Ave.

2. Li hing mui

Salty meets sweet meets sour—the unique, exotic flavor combination in li hing mui has a little bit of everything. Brought to Hawaii from China in the early twentieth century, the powder is made from ground salted plu, can be sprinkled on everything from fresh pineapple to gummy candy to dried mango, and is a toothsome favorite for Hawai‘i keiki (kids). ABC Stores, Ala Moana Center, lower level, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd.

3. Shave ice

It’s become a graphic icon synonymous with Hawai‘i, and for good reason: A refreshing cone of “shave ice,” as we call it, is essential on a hot, tropical day. You won’t miss with the go-to “rainbow” combination flavors (strawberry, blue vanilla and banana), but try it local style with a filling of ice cream, and sweet adzuki beans, and topped with sweetened, condensed milk and mochi balls. Waiola Shave Ice, 3113 Mokihana St.

4. Chichi dango mochi 

You’ve probably heard of mochi ice cream, in which Japanese-style sweet rice cakes are stuffed with ice creams in matcha, coffee, vanilla or other flavors. In Hawaii, mochi itself (sans ice cream) is hugely popular—so much so that we’ve created our own little tweaks on this comforting, chewy little delicacy. Chichi dango is an ultra creamy and smooth mochi iteration that gets its luscious texture from powdered milk, a staple in the islands during wartime. Try it where it all started: at Nisshodo Candy Store. Nisshodo Candy Store, Bldg I-5, 1095 Dillingham Blvd.

5. Haupia

Hit up any luau or Hawaiian-food restaurant, and you’re bound to find haupia on the menu. Thick and silky coconut-milk pudding, cut into firm squares more akin to Jell-o than you’re typical pudding parfait, these simple pleasures are the perfect ending to a feast of many flavors. Traditionally, it was thickened with arrowroot, but you’re likely to find a version nowadays that uses cornstarch. Either way, it’s the quintessential tropical treat. Highway Inn, 680 Ala Moana Blvd #105.

6. Uber Factory ube tarts 

It’s down an inconspicuous alley in a small town part way between Waikiki and the North Shore, but if you find yourself passing through on the way to Haleiwa, do yourself a favor and stop at Uber Factory in Wahiawa. The tiny bakery pumps out wee tarts made with shortbread shells and filled with the creamiest, most luscious ube (sweet yam popular in the Philippines) filling. Bonus? They’re an incredibly brilliant shade of purple, which will make for some killer Instagram food photos. Uber Factory, 71 South Kamehameha Hwy.

7. Liliha Bakery coco puffs

The best choux pastry, surrounding the best cocoa filling, topped with a dollop of the best chantilly frosting? Sounds like heaven in the mouth, right? Liliha Bakery Coco Puffs, an inspired—and indulgent!—take on your typical cream puff, may be off the beaten path for most Hawai‘i visitors, but it will be a trip well worth it. These generous mouthfuls of buttery, velvety delight are go-to’s for potlucks, parties and bbqs, even among locals. Our advice? Get yourself a few for the plane ride out of Honolulu, and order a box of frozen ones to share with your family at home. You won’t regret it. Liliha Bakery, 515 N Kuakini St.