The waffle about Waffles
By Jade Hu - Thursday, May 22, 2014
Recent food trends brought on the muffin fever, then the insane whirlwind over cupcakes, and now there’s this huge hullabaloo over… waffles. More than a dozen waffle joints have mushroomed over the past few months, and existing cafes are jumping on the waffle-wagon, offering up these crispy yet spongey snacks on their menus. Mind you, these things that originate in Belgium centuries ago are nothing new. In fact, many of us would recall the simple pleasures of heading out for a lovely simple waffle with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, topped with strawberries and cream or strawberry jam, at places like Swensen’s or A&W. There are also pandan-flavoured waffles from pasar malam stalls and traditional bakeries, smeared with peanut butter, kaya and blueberry jam, for less than $2 a piece. Now, we start seeing salmon, and whathaveyou thrown on ‘em, and people are lapping it up. What’s up with that?
More than six years ago, Waffletown, an American fast food joint, filled the void that A&W left in our midst by offering Belgian waffles – both sweet and savoury – next to fried chicken and milkshakes. In 2012, Timeout Singapore came up with a Top Five, way before the food bloggers’ deluge and the waffle storm hit. At that time, the waffle machines have barely started to heat up. Things escalated quickly, a flurry of waffle joints opened up and now they are a dime a dozen. Strangers’ Reunion, which opened in March 2012 and was serving waffles since the beginning, opened a dedicated waffle house March this year. Even The Beast, a South American-themed restaurant, announced they are starting to serve chicken and waffles in April this year – we did say jumping onto the “waffle-wagon” at the start.
For Yvette Chua, chef and owner at Hatter Street, believes that for her case, serving waffles has nothing to do with any trend, “I just do what I feel like doing.” More than anything, she aspires to challenge the local taste buds through a fusion of mainstream food items (such as waffles) and an oddball flavour (such as bell pepper or hae bi hiam). The Pandan Ice Cream and Gula Melaka Whoaffles is a gentle attempt at endowing the Belgian snack with an Asian touch, and the effect is surprisingly harmonious and scores with many patrons. She is going full steam ahead with waffles, trend or not, and wants to introduce the gai dan zai(鷄蛋仔), Hong Kong-styled waffles, sometime in the future.
Stateland Cafe, a dessert cafe which opened in February this year, started off with the not-so-fresh idea of doing ‘waffles with a twist’, knowing that this is more of a trend that anything else. But no matter, according to co-owner Chia Kai Chao, “We often have people coming to eat just waffles but we can use that as platform to introduce other dishes such as honey toast, and there’s potential to be the trailblazer for something different.” Confident that their other menu items are bigger and better, they plan on expanding into French bistro food next door in the next weeks.
Andrew Lek, owner-barista-chef at Department of Caffeine, is well aware of the trend and would likely change his menu items if and when the trend blows over. Although he prides in his creations – the latest being a sensuous, super “jelat” (rich) Valrhona Chocolate Waffle, he cautions against going completely off the rails, “You can only do so many ‘twists’ before it gets totally twisted.”
Clearly, waffles are not something to waffle about. Even though it’s essentially a trendy thing to be eating now, it does not necessarily mean that people are okay with any waffle just because it is all jazzed up. For example, coping with sudden large crowds with insufficient waffle makers and irate waffle-hungry customers is one problem these cafes have to contend with. “Overall dry and tasteless,” came a response from Daniel Ang, local food blogger, about the Squid Ink Waffle with Smoked Salmon and Poached Egg from Waffle Slayer, a spin-off extension of Strangers’ Reunion cafe. While it’s always good to inject creativity and fun into a comfort food item like waffles, Andrew Lek says, “Some flavours just don’t work. Say, squid ink…it tastes like nothing, frankly.”
So some cafes are using the trend to gain more exposure, some eateries are throwing in waffles to make some quick money, and we have at least one diehard waffle chef here. Then of course, there are many who are just surfing along until they catch the next wave… As for me, I prefer my good old pandan coconut ‘kosong’ waffle from the traditional bakery downstairs. One thing is for sure though, the trendy thing here is what goes on the waffle itself, and when the next wave hits, the waffles themselves will surely prevail.