Gai daan zai, aka egg waffles, egg puffs, egg rolls, or 雞蛋仔 were a huge part of my childhood. When we first moved back to Hong Kong from Melbourne, I was nine years old, and very stubborn (I still am - as in stubborn, not nine). I insisted that I was better off in Australia and had major issues repatriating to Hong Kong. I would rebel, in my own little way (I was always timid out of home) by acting up at school - bursting out crying in the middle of class, aggravating teachers and classmates for no particular reason, missing the school bus (i.e. things that traditional Asian parents would take notice of). I hated my parents for dragging me back.
When things got out of control, Grandma would take me on a bus down to the terminus in Choi Hung, opposite Ngau Chi Wan wet market, where there'd invariably be two street carts - gai daan zai and roasted chestnuts (more like stir fried chestnuts, as they'd be tossed around in a giant wok with a suitably large wok chaan among pellets of charcoal). They were my pacifiers of sorts.
A gai daan zai stall in Tai Po
In case you're not familiar with gdz, allow me an attempt at describing them. They're basically circular waffles with rows of small ovals protruding at regular intervals. Till this day, they're mostly made by hand. A batter, consisting of egg, sugar, custard powder, baking powder, flour, oil, and evaporated milk (or more or less) is poured into a heavy, solid metal waffle maker and held over a fire horizontally (or in the case of more modern waffle makers, are heated by electricity). After a certain time, the waffle maker is flipped over, allowing the batter to run onto the other side, thereby creating a cavity in the middle. Each oval of the gai daan zai should therefore be half filled with cooked batter and the rest should be a cavity. The 'shell' would be golden and crisp and the inside pancakey (just a little wetter than cake).
Courtesy of Openrice user
It never used to be so difficult to find good gdz. Every stall I went to as a kid managed to turn out decent, half filled, crispy, golden renditions. Nowadays it seems to be a dying art. I've eaten pallid, wet, flaccid ones, dry, biscuity varieties and ones whose cavities were filled entirely and set like mini cakes.
There's been a lot talk about who makes the best gdz in Hong Kong - it's a snack indigenous to the SAR and close to many people's hearts. Some of the most famous stalls are in North Point, Tai O and Tai Hang. All three are kind of out of the way for me...
I've never been to the one in North Point (which now had branches... hmm) but I chanced upon the grandpa who makes them in Tai Hang. Apparently he isn't always open and there are long lines when he is, especially on weekends. I was lucky and caught him just after lunch time on a weekday. Tai Hang Grandpa is famous primarily because he uses a charcoal fire, which is the traditional way, and considered superior to gas and its modern fuel-y friends for imparting a distinct flavour to the food being cooked. I also think it might have a higher temperature, thereby easily creating a crisp crust. SO anyway, this guy's famous and there was no queue. I was excited.
Tai Hang Grandpa's cart
His pushcart had two stoves, but only one was in use that day - grandpa explained that he only uses both on weekends when it gets busy. His batter looked neither thinner nor thicker than what I was accustomed to - he poured this into the little ovals and clamped the maker shut. The unruly flames intermittently licked the sides of the metal. Grandpa flipped his accoutrement over and left it on the flames for another minute or so, and before I knew it, took it away and opened the waffle maker and carefully turned the gai daan zai onto a cooling rack. Several orbs fell from the side. Uh-oh. It's not supposed to do that. My heart sank a little. Grandpa expedited the cooling process with several waves of his woven, spade shaped fan and slid my waffle into a hole-punched (for airflow) brown paper bag, popping the bits that fell off in at the end.
I bit in. There was a little crunch, but not much satisfaction as there was a little pressure against my teeth. The ball was full. These were mini cakes - daan gou zai 蛋糕仔 - that happened to be conjoined, not gai daan zai. Gai daan zai are supposed to be semi-filled - some may go as far as to say that 2/3 of it is air, i.e. each orb is balloon-ish. Daan gou zai vs. Gai daan zai. One Chinese word makes all the difference...
To Grandpa's credit, his batter wasn't overly sugary, and there was, really, a nice 'charcoal' flavour. I also love that he doesn't have a million flavours - for us old school kids, original is best. (Most stalls now offer taro, chocolate, and even strawberry flavours, complete with putrid red colouring, of course).
Grandpa's a sweet guy though, and he obviously has his fans - a regular came by while I was waiting and ordered two at once. Maybe gai daan zai does mean daan gou zai to some people...
Sign for Granville Uncle
My own favourite is an 'Uncle' on Granville Rd, TST (even though I think he does have a strawberry flavour, tut tut) - much more accessible geographically, and very, very good. It's worth being back in Hong Kong for, let me tell you that (well, until you get your butt squeezed in the MTR on the way home). *NB that the Granville uncle has moved a little into the cleaned-up street food alley by the newish Granville Identity minimall.
Tai Hang Grandpa
Tung Lo Wan Road
Tai Hang (Tin Hau MTR)
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Tsim Sha Tsui, just before you're half way down on the left if you're coming from Chatham Rd. It faces the Granville like any other shop on the street - I'm saying this because there's one on a corner of a side street very close by and that's not it.
*NB that the Granville uncle has moved a little into the cleaned-up street food alley by the newish Granville Identity minimall.
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n.b. maps are approximate