They claim you can’t cook an omelet without cracking a few eggs, but perfecting the famous Hong Kong puff, also known as an egg waffle, requires a lot more.
It’s a spherical egg-based waffle prevalent in Macau and Hong Kong, made of an eggy leavened mixture cooked in two semi-spherical plates. They are typically served hot and eaten plain, though you can fill them with fruits and flavors such as chocolate, coconut, or strawberry.
It’s known in Cantonese as gai daan jai (雞蛋仔), and in English as a bubble waffle, egg puff, pancake waffle, eggette, puffle, pancake balls, and egglet. In Chinatowns across America, particularly in New York, they sometimes are referred to as Hong Kong cakes. A single egg waffle can constitute between 20 and 35 small round ‘balls.’
Despite being deep-seated within the memories of Hong Kong residents old and young, the origins of the gai daan jai or egg waffle (which literally translates to “little chicken egg”) are unknown. According to one legend, the egg-shaped mold was invented by an enterprising postwar generation to compensate for an eggless batter, as eggs were once considered a luxury. Another story goes that street hawkers used damaged eggs to make a batter, resulting in the classic golden color of the waffle.
It’s also possible that the special iron skillet used to shape the gai daan tsai is a Hong Kong version of the classic checkered European waffle press. Nowadays, the two related snacks are frequently sold by the same vendor.
Another story goes that it started in the 1950s when various shopkeepers needed something to do with those cracked or broken eggs that customers refused to buy. Instead of discarding them, they combined them with evaporated flour and milk to make a batter. They then poured it into molds—most likely the waffle-shaped molds first, mimicking the European waffle, and afterward the unique molds you see nowadays.
The name arose from the eggy shape and the eggy contents.
However, Mr. Cheung, the owner of a food stall, began selling daan jai kau, the predecessor of egg waffle in 1944, from a cart. Daan Jai Kau is larger than a puff waffle and is divided into 30 pieces for hawkers to sell.
Egg waffles are some of the best-known Hong Kong “street snacks,” placing first in a ranking of the top 100 most popular HK street snacks. Since their introduction in the 1950s, when they were prepared with coal fire heating and dispensed from street kiosks in Hong Kong, they have been a popular street snack.
Puff waffles are made with an egg-rich, sweet batter that’s cooked on a hot grill, a special frying pan with tiny round cells (similar to an æbleskiver pan but with a greater lot of smaller round cells). The grill is placed in the fire over hot coals or, more commonly, an electric heater. The batter is poured into a special frying pan and heated, forming small ovals of egg waffles.
The key to making a crisp egg waffle is to quickly flip the pan after pouring the batter into the hot pan. This could result in an egg waffle with a cake-like bottom and a crispy top. The waffle is crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, thanks to the bubbles.
The majority of batters being used egg waffles are quick bread, though some are fermented or yeast-raised. Depending on local customs, you can eat egg waffles at various times of the day.
You should be aware that not all egg puffs are made equal. A genuinely excellent egg puff has a crisp exterior with a moist, dense lower half and is surrounded by a pocket of air. This shape is achieved by quickly flipping the mold after the batter has been poured in, resulting in a thin, crispy shell over one side and a solid base on the other.
If you want to try making Hong Kong puffs yourself, you can buy egg puff molds reasonably quickly—some are even complete electric waffle makers—but it’s undeniably one of those treats that tastes much better on the street. The best egg puffs are those made over a charcoal flame traditionally. The charcoal maintains a consistently high temperature and scorches the edges, imparting a distinct smoky flavor to the egg puffs.
They’re becoming increasingly difficult to find these days, though a few Hong Kong restaurants still prepare them this way. Order one fresh from the oven and start ripping it all apart when it’s almost too warm to the touch: that initial perfect crunch, the soft, creamy layer of batter beneath, the piping hot air pocket—happiness in a paper bag.
If you enjoy eating different types of waffles, you might also want to delight in unusual pancakes from around the world.
Although the traditional egg waffle originated in Hong Kong, it’s now being reinvented worldwide. In addition to the conventional “egg flavor,” they are also available in various flavors such as chocolate, purple sweet potato, cheese, or green tea. It has also gained fame as a dessert served with many types of ice cream.