One of the most popular snacks on the streets of Hong Kong is the Gai Daan Jai, or “egg waffle.” Made from simple ingredients: flour, eggs, baking powder, evaporated milk, starch, sugar and water, the thin batter is cooked in a distinctive iron that provides a signature shape.
Its origins are cloudy at best, with even the reason for the name being in dispute. Some claim it came from the egg shape of the dimples, some for the amount of eggs used in the batter. What is certain, is that they have been one of Hong Kong's favorite street foods for decades. Traditionally prepared over charcoal, health concerns and convenience have led to electricity becoming the common cooking method.
What makes this waffle any different from one could get at any number of breakfast places? Several things. The glaring difference one notices is the dimples. They are “outies” rather than “innies” The texture is crisp, firm yet chewy, and it is slightly sweeter than a traditional waffle, with a flavor reminding one of a fortune cookie, perhaps with some vanilla wafer mixed in.
Despite the number of Hong Kong style cafés in the western San Gabriel Valley, the waffle is not a common item even on their notoriously large menus. While some prefer the version served at Café Spot in Alhambra (where it is listed as “Hong Kong Pancake” and rectangular in shape), the standard bearer for Hong Kong waffles is Tasty Garden.
At their four locations, three in the San Gabriel Valley and one in Orange County, the waffles are a favorite. Favorite is truly an understatement, for if you go to the cozier Alhambra location, there are times when they are seemingly on every table. Upon receiving your order, you will note a hexagonal honeycomb of ovoid shaped goodness atop a doily. While fine on its own, if one asks for it, sweetened condensed milk is provided for dipping or drizzling, which takes the waffle to another level. And, seriously, when is adding condensed milk to something not a good thing?
A Gai Daan Jai is complimented perfectly by coffee, tea or especially one of the flavored milk teas available and works either as a snack or as a finish to a lunch or dinner. At Tasty Garden, they are featured on the “Afternoon Tea” menu, served with choice of coffee, milk tea or Chinese herbal tea for a reduced price from 3:00 to 5:30 p.m., and should one have a late night craving, being a HK café, they are open into the early morning hours.