Going global with Hong Kong's waffle-mania

Waffles are powerful. They’re so popular that Hong Kongers still can’t get enough of them – to the extent that we’ve adapted the ‘Belgian waffle’, and made it into our own street snack! But do you know that waffles come in many shapes and size, characterized by different pockets, servings, ingredients and texture? In Belgium, for instance, there’s already an age-long duel between the smaller Liege waffle and the lighter Brussels waffle. The popular ‘Belgian waffle’, meanwhile, technically does not exist - it was ‘invented’ by the Americans following the arrival of the Dutch in America in 1602, and the import of the waffle iron from France at a slightly later date.

In the Far East, meanwhile, the waffle has been popularized, localized and perhaps bastardized, since its introduction. Ever-versatile, it’s been tweaked, re-shaped, and paired with innumerable toppings. While Western-style Japanese cafes serve up girly versions with ice cream, the Hong Kong-style waffle – simpler and crispier, has also become a beloved local favorite. The latest craze for Taiwanese import Coffee Alley’s version, meanwhile, proves that its star power remains undimmed. For the past months, Hong Kongers have patiently queued up at Coffee Alley and new hit Take a Break Café, hoping to get a taste and to provide a verdict on these new specimens (final opinion: mixed) That’s not to mention the International Waffle day, originating from Sweden - held yearly on 25th March, it’s a good excuse for a good waffle feast!

Here, we bring you this beloved food in all its glorious cultural variations, from savory to sweet, and from round-shaped to fan-shaped. Tuck in, breathe in that eggy smell, and indulge.

■ Belgian

(Photos by rookieglutton and supersupergirl)

Ah, the true Belgian waffle. (Not the American kind!) The granddaddy of all waffles. While the Brussels waffle is a thicker, deep-pocketed one usually served sugared, the smaller but richer Liege waffle is sweet in itself - denser, chewier and crispier, it comes caramelized. It’s currently being served with all sorts of toppings at new takeaway WAFFFLE!, which fuses a pop art aesthetic with authentic Belgian culinary chops. With chocolate sauce (or chocolate chips in the mix), Nutella or fresh cream it serves up a treat, but how many of you know that for the true Belgian waffle connoisseur, specimens should best be eaten by itself, without such ‘vulgar’ ingredients as toppings? In any case, that’s not advice that Hong Kongers would take to heart anytime soon! Also popular is Augustin's, a Belgian import that serves up authentic Liege specimens with a variety of sauces and toppings.

supersupergirl on WAFFFLE!:'I loved the chewiness of it and the crispiness of the surface. The waffle was sweet because it had delicious caramelized sugar on the outside, so I chose whipped cream with it to balance out the sweetness.'

■ American

(Photos by 為 食 龍 少 爺 SiuYeah and feverfew )

The North American or so-called ‘Belgian waffle’ is close in spirit to the Brussels waffle, having a higher grid pattern and being lighter in flavor. It’s not from Belgium though, strictly speaking! It’s often seen on the breakfast tables of diners the world over, served with maple syrup etc. At Green Waffle Diner, Hong Kong’s premier American-style waffle café, these waffles are the gateway to any combination of meals, from full breakfast sets, mixed steak sets and Egg Hollandaise sets to its star specialty – fried chicken sets. ‘Waffles and chicken’ is an African American classic – and instead of being a dessert or a light snack, it’s a full-bodied meal. Essentially more of an all-day brunch joint than a dessert parlor, Green Waffle Diner is usually bustling at all hours, fusing the best of both the American diner and the Hong Kong-café tradition.

Mjhk:'Fried chicken: the chicken was piping hot and tender. The skin was crisp and the batter light, though heavily flavored with herbs. There was a definite tang to it, perhaps it was buttermilk? B+… … Overall, we had a great experience, and will definitely come back, as many of the menu items seemed worth a try. Before moving here, I lived in the land of diners (Jersey) and it's nice to have some of that same experience here.'

■ Hong Kong-style

(Photos by Prince and also Prince)

Known as ‘grid biscuits’, the Hong Kong style waffles are round in shape and divided into four quarters. Made from eggs, sugar and evaporated milk, they are usually served warm on the street. Butter and peanut butter are then spread on one side, and folded over. For a slightly fancier but no less authentic experience, head to Tin Hau’s Cameo's Kitchen for a bite. The tiny store sells only ‘grid biscuits’ and ‘eggettes’ – the other type of H.K. waffle. Using Japanese flour, these specimens are low in sugar, oil-free and much healthier than your usual street snack. What’s more, they’re super thick, and contain a strong dash of honey besides the usual butter and evaporated milk. Diners have commended the store on the use of honey, as well as the high level of hygiene. At $18 it’s not the cheapest waffle around, but definitely wins on sophistication and quality. If you’re looking for a slightly cheaper option, try Shau Kei Wan’s ‘Low-Profile Highly-skilled High Street Snacks’ (低調高手大街小食), a no-nonsense store that sells waffles much celebrated for their crispiness.

food!food!food! on Cameo's Kitchen: Prices have been raised to $14 - pretty expensive, but totally worth it. Still the same thick grid biscuit, stuffed full of fillings and sauces… …and still the same exterior that strikes the perfect balance between crispiness and chewiness. In my humble opinion it’s the perfect grid biscuit – simple eggy, fluffy goodness.'

■ Japanese - Western-style and traditional

(Photos by longhiutung and V3F)

It’s no secret that traditionally, some of the best waffles in town are to be found in Western-style Japanese cafes, e.g.Orchard Garden Cafe & Restaurant, as well as the famous UCC. Concoctions are often a lesson in girliness - fan-shaped variations on Belgian waffles served with dustings of icing sugar, toppings of cream, fresh fruit, and ice cream. This pretty presentation means they’re often a girls’ teatime dream. If you’re looking for something a bit more ‘traditional Japanese’ though, head to Mitsukiya across the harbor. Coming with a matcha dip that’s spiked with cheese, diners get to spread it all over waffles, like butter over pancakes. It’s a great alternative to the traditional Belgian, the ubiquitous American version, or the endless pairing with fresh fruit and many flavors of ice cream.

陳真 on Orchard Garden: 'Waffles plus ice cream is one of Orchard Garden’s most celebrated desserts. Our set includes one– a good thing, as the dizzying menu simply had us spoilt for choice! This waffle is fluffy and sweet – the Japanese style of cooking is best served with ice cream, producing a magical chemical effect between the cold milkiness of the ice cream and the fluffiness of the waffle. No child, nor adult, would be able to resist.’

■ Taiwanese

(Photos by Ling Kwok and applehoneyhk)

Taiwanese waffle mania has hit Hong Kong, with people queuing up for hours just for a taste of Coffee Alley's Strawberry Ice Cream Waffles. Made from a secret blend of flour, milk and eggs with not a drop of water, some have lauded it for its fluffiness, although grumbles have been heard that it’s too hard and filling. In any case, the frustrating queues means that attention is fast turning to Take a Break Café across the harbor, which offers a similar if lighter specimen. While Taiwanese-style waffles are traditionally a bit dryer, less buttery and less topping-heavy than Western and Japanese versions, both establishments are atypically very generous with the side servings, perhaps a chief reason for their ‘hit’ status.

為食豬cc on Coffee Alley: The Waffle with Fresh Strawberries and Strawberry Ice Cream ($58) is a visual delight- the red of the strawberries looks great with the strawberry sauce and custard. Looks extremely appetizing! In truth, the waffle’s exterior is crispy, but the texture is overly-hard; what’s more, it’s way too thick and large. With custard and two scoops of ice cream included, we two tried hard but couldn’t even finish it.’

Absent but not forgotten - funky alternatives

Photo by jo712

Photo by miss juju

Photo by pp21a
3.Uchi Coffee

■ 1.Ostensibly ‘British’ in style, this takeaway offers waffles that are cut into 3-dimensional cubes –and meant to be eaten fresh off the griddle.
■ 2.Whoever’s heard of waffles in a long rectangular shape? It’s the same texture, same taste, just in a funkier shape.
■ 3.Looking more like a macaron/doughnut than a waffle, these adorable specimens are small and compact, and fit just one ice cream scoop on top!

Text: Michelle W/Photos courtesy of OpenRicers

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