It’s a typically hot summer day in Hong Kong – the kind of heat that numbs the brain, shortens the temper and warrants a Very Hot Weather warning from the Hong Kong Observatory, meaning nobody has any business being outdoors for long. And yet there is a queue of about two dozen people snaking along the sidewalk outside the takeaway window of Lee Keung Kee, a hole-in-the-wall shop selling street snacks. Their most popular item? The egg waffle. Better known as gai1 daan6 zai2 (雞蛋仔) – “little chicken eggs.” Each hungry face in the queue glows with sweat and anticipation.
Risking heatstroke for a snack: such is the strength of the egg waffle’s siren call at Lee Keung Kee, also known as “LKK.” This is undoubtedly Hong Kong’s most famous egg waffle vendor, having made it into a list of recommended street food outlets in the 2016 Michelin Guide to Hong Kong and Macau. Whether LKK is the best in Hong Kong is debatable, but its waffles are certainly some of the most crisp in texture. LKK boss Mr. Liu says his secret to a crunchy waffle is a longer cooking time. “It has to be 8 minutes at least, or else the moisture won’t be reduced enough,” he says. That explains the long wait.
During our visit, it takes us 15 minutes just to get to the front of the queue. The waffle cook took our order and our money and asked us to stand to one side and wait. Through the narrow window, we watch the red-faced cook pour a thick stream of custardy batter into the pock-marked waffle makers and, wielding the heavy metallic mould as if it were a feather, deftly swirl the batter around for an even coat. She has seven or eight waffle pans on the go, each at a different cooking stage, and no timer. In between pouring batter, flipping the pans and serving waffles, she takes orders and calculates bills. It’s multi-tasking exemplified.
After another seemingly interminable wait, I finally told the lady I don’t mind my waffle a little undercooked, so she can take it off the heat earlier for me. “No! This cannot be rushed!” she replied swiftly. Okay. Lesson learned.
Other snackers who were waiting next to me seem much more patient. I ask a couple of girls who are wearing their school uniforms if they eat here often. “We come nearly everyday,” they giggle. Everyday? Don’t they get sick of eating egg waffles? “It’s my habit. When I see that puffy waffle, I just can’t resist eating it,” one of them replies. “But actually I like chewy egg waffles more. These ones are too dry,” says the other.
They school me on all the different kinds of egg waffles in the city. There are crispy ones, cakey ones, and ones that are still gooey in the middle. Purists enjoy the plain traditional waffle, but shops continuously innovate new flavors, even making savoury types. The girls love the latest craze: elaborate ice cream sundaes topped with egg waffles, a decadent twist on the humble street snack.
Egg waffles are a unique indigenous snack that have withstood the test of time. Resembling oversized bubble wrap, the golden-brown cakes have no documented origin story but have been around since the 1950s, when they were cooked over coal fires at mobile street stalls. It is generally believed that the street hawkers bought up damaged eggs and worked them into a cake batter to sell for a profit.
Today, egg waffles can be had at nearly every street corner. A ubiquitous and instantly recognisable street food, its popularity has spread beyond Hong Kong to Southeast Asia and North America where they are known as “eggettes” or “Hong Kong cakes.” LKK’s Mr. Liu started his business as one of those typical street hawkers in the 50s. He made a name for himself with his egg waffles recipe and now has six branches all over Hong Kong. He prides himself on sticking to the tried-and-true plain waffle and not relying on gimmicks. His shops also sell other popular street snacks such as curried fish balls.
When I finally get my order at LKK, I grab the paper bag with relief, peeking a look at the egg waffle inside, rolled up like a magazine. The vanilla smells from the stall had been driving me crazy during my nearly half-hour wait. Shoving chunks of the waffle into my mouth, I find the pieces almost brittle, shattering into crumbs with one bite. It has a wholesome, mildly sweet custard taste. I clean up the entire thing in two minutes flat. And I want more.
Find Lee Keung Kee at 492 King’s Road, North Point. Below, discover some more of our favourite egg waffle places.
Shop A1, 174 Fa Yuen Street, Mongkok
Modos does everything from pandanus leaf to Jacob’s Club Orange flavoured egg waffles. A special Dragon Boat Festival dumpling flavoured waffle is now available until July 3.
Eat With Me
Shop D, Nga Chi House, 12 Sze Pei Square, Tsuen Wan
This café makes whimsical egg waffle dishes. Sure, there are the pretty rainbow-colorer sundaes, but they’ve also created the Club Egg Waffle Sandwich, a double-decker held together by square pieces of egg waffle.
45 Gough Street. Sheung Wan
Established by a classically trained chef, Oddies does multi-layered sundaes with egg waffles. Creamy gelato is layered with fluffy waffles and assorted treats. Yum.
Note: Cantonese romanisation in this article is based on the jyutping system, which uses numbers to correspond to the six main tones in Cantonese.