In a nondescript building tucked on the Lower East Side, you can catch a sweet whiff of the streets of Hong Kong. It emanates from a tiny kitchen, where a row of curious waffle makers—hexagonal inside and pocked with half-spheres instead of squares—churn out equally curious creations: golden-brown sheets bearing a likeness to giant bubble wrap.
These are gai dan jai, 1950s-style Hong Kong egg waffles. Sweet and reminiscent of eggy sponge cake in taste, each pull-apart bubble has a thin, crispy exterior and plush, cake-like interior. (They taste much better than their plastic lookalikes.)
David Chan, Peter Li, and Yiming Hui, friends and co-founders of Wowfulls, wanted to bring this popular Hong Kong street snack to New York. The twist: Here, they’re served as ice cream cones. The trio started selling their “Wowfulls” at Smorgasburg in October 2015, where they became an Instagram-propelled hit, and opened their first brick-and-mortar shop this year in March.
At the shop, they offer their Wowfulls in three flavors: original, coconut, and chocolate. Smorgasburg runs have included other fun flavors, like matcha and coffee. Customers then load them up with ice cream, like the blue- and pink-streaked Crazy Vanilla or Pop Rocks-studded Cotton Candy; an array of toppings, from mochi pieces and Pocky sticks to cookie dough and fresh strawberries; and a drizzle, like chocolate syrup or housemade matcha sauce. For the indecisive, house combos are also available. Each Wowfulls creation costs $8.
But as elaborate as these fillings and toppings can get, the star, Chan insists, is still the waffle.
After trying the confection in Hong Kong and finding its New York Chinatown counterparts unauthentic, the founding trio set about creating their own. It was an ambitious endeavor guided mostly by Google searches, random recipe tweaking, and trust in their own taste buds. None of them had previous culinary experience.
Still unsatisfied with their product—it was good, but flawed when compared to the authentic version—they returned to Hong Kong for inspiration. They visited over 30 vendors, from the traditional to the experimental, to pinpoint the perfect sweetness and crispiness. They pooled their research, then adjusted for their own needs—the taste had to be sweet enough to accommodate the American palate, and the texture had to be sturdy enough to withstand a scoop of ice cream, all while retaining the delicate crisp that set Hong Kong waffles apart.
Finally, they hit a sweet (and crispy) spot.
Now, these self-proclaimed “self-taught egg waffle masters” are living their dream of bringing an authentic Hong Kong egg waffle to New York, where they hope to popularize it with an American audience. The title, however, comes with a caveat.
“If you ask us to make anything else, we’re clueless,” Chan said.
Thankfully for us, they make one delicious egg waffle.
309 E. Houston St. (between Clinton & Attorney streets)
Lower East Side
1 p.m.–9 p.m.