Hong Kong: Gai Daan Jai
My favourite comfort food in Hong Kong is definitely the Gai Dan Zai or Sweet Bubble Waffles. Directly translated it means ‘little chicken egg’ which is an apt description. These pancake like treats are made from eggs, sugar, evaporated milk, butter, and flour. The batter mixture is poured into two moulded skillets shaped like honeycombs and baked over a charcoal fire.
The outside of the Gai Daan Jai are crispy, delicate and light while the inside is soft and fluffy. These are best eaten hot and should not be left wrapped too long or they will become soft. Original is best with nothing added although in today’s ever curious Hong Kong you can find cheese, mocha, peanut butter, pandan, green tea with red bean , chestnut, earl grey tea, crab, spicy meat floss, shrimp paste and even sweet potato flavours.
The origins of the Gai Daan Jai are unclear. It is thought to have originated in the 1950s, when a grocery shop owner did not want to waste broken egg. He added flour, butter and evaporated milk to the eggs creating a batter which he baked in a mould.
In the past you couldn’t walk down a street in Hong Kong without seeing a Dai Pai Dong stall selling these treats. Nowadays these iconic institutions have been a diminishing as the stall licences are only able to be transferred between family members. This means where once there were hundreds of dai pai dong there are now only a handful in operation in Central (Graham Street and Stanley Street), Times Square, Causeway Bay, Ap Lei Chau), Yai Mai Ma (Temple Street) Lan Fong Yuen (Gage Street) and Tsim Sha Tsui (Haiphong Street).
Whatever its origins this still remains one of my favourite sweet treats in Hong Kong. When it comes to street food the Gai Daan Jai is definitely an iconic dish that is much loved by locals and tourists alike.