Gai Daan Jai

I attended the University of Houston (main campus) when I first went to college in 2005. That is when I first realized that Houston is considered one of the most diverse cities in the world. I found that out as I quickly learned one of the University’s main marketing points, as they often called themselves “the most diverse University in the world”. The longer I lived in Houston, the more I realized their claims were likely very true. You see, Houston, despite not being as urbanized as somewhere like New York, still contains an unfathomable amount of mixed culture that is made evident by the healthy variety of restaurants, events, and people.

Houston hosts Japanese festivals, Korean festivals, Greek festivals… you name it. In the southwest area of Houston you will find a “chinatown.” Really, it is an amalgamation of Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese spots. Further in, you will also find a south asian mecca, containing anything from Indian Supermarkets to Pakistani corner stores. In the southeast, you will the hispanic side, full of Salvadorian, Mexican, Honduran, and other hispanic restaurants and bars. While Houston does not have the ease of transportation of New York, nor its everything-is-always-open daily routine, it does contain a similarly sizable pot of culture and food. Those who do not know Houston do not think of a cultural pot when they hear its name. Most think Nasa, or Texas. Truly, it is so much more.

When Bubble Egg first became a thing in Houston I was surprised, but I expected it at the same time. Houston definitely deserved and fit this place’s sudden appearance. Bubble Egg is fairly new to Houston, as it only opened in 2017. It specializes in what many consider the number one street food in Hong Kong–Gai Daan Jai (鷄蛋仔)–which translates to “little chicken egg”. In New York, most people refer to it as “Hong Kong cakes”. Gai Daan Jai’s name originates from its shape. It is an egg based batter turned into a waffle, that is then shaped and grilled into something akin to giant bubblewrap. It contains many puffed up bubbles (or eggs) conjoined by the batter. Gai Daan Jai has been a staple Hong Kong street food for decades.

Gai Daan Jai before the toppings.

Most establishments roll up the finished waffle into a cone shape, which is then filled with ice cream and other relevant toppings. You can think of it like a bubbly, waffly crepe, turned into a cone with toppings and all. Before I discovered this place, I had never had or heard of Gai Daan Jai. I have actually had something similar in New York, but it was a crepe instead of a waffle. Despite being similar, the taste of Gai Daan Jai is completely different.

To prepare it, they begin by whisking the egg based batter. You can choose either the regular batter or chocolate flavored. Then, your batter of choice is poured into a specially designed waffler maker that has bubble shaped molds throughout. Once it gains enough solidity, it is placed in an upside down cone shaped metal frame that serves to help the waffle retain its cone form and function. Then, you get to pick your flavor of ice cream, followed by the toppings. As most dessert delicacy places, they do have a preset menu of tried and true concoctions for those who prefer to pick an existing menu item rather than customize their own. And like most asian based dessert places, where the visual appeal factor is culturally important, they do not just dump the ingredients randomly ala Marble Slab. Instead, they carefully position each ice cream scoop and topping to create what I could easily call art. It truly brings a smile to my face when something is both beautiful and delicious.

I would describe the taste of the waffle as a midpoint between crispy and too soft. They have achieved a consistency that is sufficiently hard to hold the ingredients, but sufficiently soft to be able to be molded into a cone. The ice cream is not specially delicious. Still, it is very good, but you won’t find the same creaminess and natural taste you get from Gelato. However, when combined with the waffle, it gives you a delicious hot and cold combination reminiscent of an ala mode pie. The toppings vary from your generic sprinkles, to fresh fruit, and even to more commercial stuff like Kit Kats. The portion can only be described as generous, which will make you unlikely to want seconds.

The place itself is located in one of the aforementioned asian neighborhoods in southwest Houston. The sign is trendy and elegant, like something you would find in the NYC Soho area. The inside is simplistic but functional. However, I was disappointed at the lack of space. This place is often packed, and it is too small for the amount of traffic they get. Not only that, but the seating is rather limited and small. The menu is displayed handwritten on a set of black chalkboards, but thankfully it has large print and is easy to read from anywhere within the consistently long line.

Overall, I would rate this place a solid 4 out of 5 stars, missing the highest mark only because of its inconvenient seating, or lack thereof. Nevertheless, it is definitely a place you should check out if you are a dessert lover. As far as I know, this place is the only one of its kind in the Houston area. Do let me know if I am mistaken in the comments below.

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