Snag a Hybrid Filipino Doughnut at Unit 120 Before They’re Gone

Pastry chef Isa Fabro is making malas—a combination of Hawaiian <i>malasadas</i> and Filipino <i>carioca</i>—at Alvin Cailan’s Chinatown culinary incubator

Isa Fabro, formerly the pastry chef at Orsa & Wintson (she’ll soon be heading the pastry program at a highly anticipated new restaurant, though we can’t tell you which one yet), recently took her first trip to the Philippines since she was a toddler and had some revelations. A first-generation Filipino-American, Fabro says she was able to immerse herself in the culture that she sometimes felt isolated from while growing up in the L.A. suburb of Paramount. She also got to experience flavors that she’d never had before.

“I was growing up eating all the Filipino foods, but when I was on this trip, I got to taste them the real way,” she says. “I was able to eat dishes [and I’d think] ‘Oh, I know what that is,’ and then I tasted them, and I’m like, ‘What is this?'” Regional meats,  produce, and other ingredients that are unavailable in the U.S. made all the difference. “Not to say that what I was eating before was bad, but now I can say I’ve had the real thing.”

This food culture shock—as well as delving into the rich history of her parents’ homeland—inspired Fabro to focus on creating her own Filipino-inspired dessert while she waits for her new gig to start. The result is malas, which she describes as a take on malasadas (doughnut-like confections popular in Hawai’i but with Portuguese origins) mixed with the Filipino specialty carioca (a.k.a. karioka, bitsu bitsu, cascaron, and bicho bicho), a chewy deep-fried ball made of rice flour.

Like carioca, Fabro’s malas are dressed in latik, caramelized coconut milk. “It gets really toasty, and it has that sweetness,” she says. “I’m coating it with the sauce, but the sauce also gets sucked into the doughnut.” The doughnut recipe she’s using is labor intensive because the dough has to be proofed for a long time, but the benefit is that the pastry’s crumb structure is strong enough to be soaked in latik and hold onto the sauce without collapsing. “They even tasted better  the next day,”

Already working with Alvin Cailan at his culinary incubator Unit 120, Fabro debuted the malas last week at Chinatown After Dark (a monthly al fresco food event that takes place at Far East Plaza every first Thursday) as part of a set with dinner series LASA and Amboy, which Cailan began operating earlier this year. Encouraged by the positive reception, she made some to sell as part of Amboy’s menu over this past weekend. She sold a fair amount on Saturday, and sold out the next day. “It’s only been a week, but a lot has happened already,” she says with a laugh.

For now, Fabro is selling her malas on the weekends only at Amboy’s window at least until the end of March, but she’s not quite sure how long they’ll stick around. “I’m just kind of like, ‘Okay, lets see what I can do with this,” she says.

You can try Fabro’s malas at Unit 120/Amboy, located at the Far East Plaza, 727 N Broadway on Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. (or until they sell out).