Fried Dough from the Portuguese Bakery in Provincetown

By on Tuesday, June 21st, 2022 at 9:33 pm

Portuguese Fry Bread from Provincetown's Portuguese Bakery

The big, puffy fried dough had long been a staple of Provincetown’s Portuguese Bakery, but with the pandemic in 2020 and new owners taking control of the shop in 2021, several years had passed since I had the delicious treat. That all changed over Memorial Day weekend this year.

In Portugal, Malasada, a yeasted dough covered in cinnamon and sugar (Spelled Malassada on the bakery’s webite) are traditionally served during Mardi Gras as a way to use up lard and sugar before Lent. Along the East Coast, especially in New England, descendants of Portuguese immigrants continue the tradition. However, the Portuguese Bakery serves them all summer long.

Malasada also have become popular in Hawaii. Like in Cape Cod, the bread was introduced by Portuguese sailors. However, in Hawaii, the dish is more like a filled donut with the yeast risen bread filled with custards. In Provincetown, the dough is distinctly flattened before entering the deep fryer and only coated in cinnamon sugar.

At the end of the 19th century, Portuguese sailors began settling on the tip of Cape Cod and influenced the regional cuisine. The foods they brought are still in popular on the outer Cape including linguica, kale soup, and sweetened enriched rolls.

The Portuguese bakery opened in 1936 at 299 Commercial Street, although there was likely a bakery at the location before it became the institution it is today. The business changed hands a few times, but now the building, business, and name are leased out. The family that owns the bakery ensure the continuation of those traditions.

Besides the Malasada, the bakery sells various breads both at retail and wholesale. There are other pastries too, including pasteis de nata, a Portuguese egg tart. After I traveled to Portugal, I was excited to find the custard treats in the bakery’s display, but still prefer the fried dough.

the fry bread in provincetown on Cape Cod is basically a giant donut, or an oversized zeppole

I was six weeks old the first time I was on Cape Cod, and ever since then was a regular visitor. At first my parents rented in Wellfleet for two weeks each year, and then later bought a house in Eastham. We always ended up in Provincetown a few times during those family vacations and the highlight was the Malasada.

One night we were in town late in the evening and my father bought a few peices of the fried dough, and he asked the best way to save the dough for morning. The girl at the counter said it probably wouldn’t be good and it was best to eat it right away. I’ve found this to mostly be true. Like Zeppole at an Italian festival, it’s best to eat straight away, or within 30 minutes of coming out of the hot oil.

The Malasadas are deep fried right in the big window overlooking the street and then displayed, glistening with oil and covered in sugar, so passersby would be tempted. I always was.

The bakery wasn’t the only place to find the fried dough. In the 1990s, Schooner’s, a restaurant on route 6 in Wellfleet served a similar fried bread with honey. Schooner’s called them flippers, like a whale. Eventually that restaurant closed, the building leveled, and replaced with lcoal police station.

In the spring of 2020, with the pandemic raging and much of New York City closed, my wife and I joined my brother and sister-in-law at the cottage to ride out the plague. Usually my parents rented the house out to people, but the uncertainty had left it empty.

By the summer, we were thoroughly embedded in the Cape. The positivity rate had slowed. We still weren’t eating indoors but were willing to visit Provincetown where Commercial Street had imposed an outdoor mask mandate.

Provincetown had been a familiar place turned upside by the pandemic. Shops were closed. The usual vim had deflated. The vibe had shifted. Then I saw the sign: “for lease.” The Portuguese Bakery had closed.

It was the first summer that I wouldn’t be eating a fried dough on Commercial Street as far back as I could remember. Many things were different in the pandemic: working from home; not going out; avoiding other people. But the loss of this cherished place, something I associated with the safety and comfort of childhood, seemed too much.

Months into the pandemic, my relationship to the Cape had changed. I was not just a vacationer. I was becoming a seasonal resident (an entirely different kind of privilege). The urgency to see and do things faded, the rush to visit all the places passed.

I started subscribing to the local paper, the Provincetown Independent. The paper was relatively new, but it had good coverage of local outer Cape politics, events, and businesses.

In the fall, the virus was surging again but the vaccine was on the horizon. We were extra cautiosn because my wife was pregnant. We spent Thanksgiving in Eastham roasting a turkey in an oven rarely used during the summer months.

Then at the end of 2020, I read about the planned reopening of the Portuguese Bakery. It was set to return just as we were expecting a baby.

The baby was born in Brooklyn, but we returned to Eastham with a newborn, a few weeks older than I was the first time I arrived on the Cape.

On the baby’s first outing to Provincetown, we changed his diaper on the now famous Kelly’s Corner benches. We strolled down Commercial Street in awe of the town returning to life. We were fully vaccinated and the Atlantic House outbreak hadn’t happened yet. I arrived at the bakery ready to buy my weight in fried bread. The window was empty.

I had missed the brief window that afternoon to buy a Malasada. The bakery’s new lease holders were frying up dough only twice a day, and I had arrived too late. The story was the same all summer long. Caring for the baby was like walking around with concrete blocks for shoes. We could never leave the house early enough, or he wanted to be fed or changed or have some other need. The season passed with out so much as a single fried dough.

In 2022 we arrived in the week leading into Memorial Day. The baby was a little more than a year old which made him a lot less needy. We strolled through town. It was chilly, as Cape Cod often is in the shoulder seasons. But then I saw them in the window: the Malasada stacked neatly one next to another. I knew the time had finally arrived. I bought two, one for myself and the other for my wife. Baby would get a small piece from each of us.

The baby put the bread to his mouth tentatively. He is eager to lick random objects — seashells, rocks, wood chips from the playground — but hesitant any time we give him something he can actually eat. The crispy dough was covered in sugar, and he probably tasted that first. His usual diet is heavy on bread but light on sugar. Different textures throw him off though. Then suddenly he shoved the piece into his mouth.

He took another and then another. He wasn’t just squirreling the bread away into his cheeks — he does that with toast and pasta. He was chewing it down, swallowing, and the looking up for more.

Finally I had to cut him off. He was eating all of my fried dough. Sorry, Daddy’s Number One Fried Dough Baby: Fried dough is for daddies, not for little babies!


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