Creative waffle cafes anything but square
|Double the fun:The green tea waffle at Wanna Waffle, served with matcha gelato. — Photos Elisabeth Rosen
After spending years overseas, two Vietnamese entrepreneurs have returned with inventive takes on the waffle. Elisabeth Rosen reports.
As recently as last year, one could only find waffles at cafes intended for tourists and backpackers. But two new speciality shops are introducing young Vietnamese to the sugary concoction. With bold concepts and an inventive array of toppings and flavours, these young entrepreneurs' creations are one of the best things to hit the Ha Noi dining scene this winter.
After returning to Viet Nam, Duong Anh Minh missed the waffles he ate growing up in Berlin. So he quit his job as a project manager to open this eatery in popular arts complex Zone 9.
"In Germany, waffles are what the mother makes, the grandmother," Minh says.
Address: 9 Tran Thanh Tong
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Address: 19A Quan Thanh
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His heart-shaped machines, imported from Germany, represent an attempt to offer that taste of home. The light, fluffy 21cm waffles (VND15,000) are topped with sweet condiments: homemade guava sauce, Nutella, diced fresh fruit (VND10,000 each). You can also get a savory waffle with cheddar cheese and ham, folded over like a kebab. I opted for the sweet stuff. My waffle came properly smothered in Nutella, topped with coconut ice cream and an avalanche of mango and papaya.
"You can put anything on a waffle," Minh says. "Chicken breast and salad! Tuna salad! Waffles with chili sauce!" For Christmas, he's serving waffles with almond and cinnamon and mulled wine, as is traditional in Germany. Once the kitchen gets running -- currently the only cooking is done at the waffle counter out front -- there might be soups for lunch and muesli and eggs on weekends.
The creative spirit of the waffles is very much in keeping with the setting. "I wanted to keep the raw, industrial look of Zone 9," Minh explains. To that end, public announcement speakers are repurposed as lights, which hang over concrete and metal tables. A stencil on the exposed brick wall depicts a man with a hand mixer, a character that illusion artist Knee Jerk designed based on the restaurant's logo.
The waffles are served on wooden boards, a trend that an increasing number of Ha Noi restaurants are adopting, but for Minh it's an issue of practicality. Bat Trang village didn't have any plates big enough, so he headed to De La Thanh Street to order these custom-made wooden boards, complete with an extra-long handle for carrying.
|Sweet tooth:Wunder Waffel's heart-shaped waffles come in both sweet and savory versions.
Bypass the modern, glassy interior of this Truc Bach eatery and plant yourself in the garden, where the jumbled corners of old colonial villas create a comforting shelter from the outside world. Ivy trellises dangle along the whitewashed walls, flanking wrought iron chairs shaded by sun umbrellas.
Nguyen Hai Duy first tasted waffles when he was hanging out in London as a teenager. (The English Breakfast waffle, an upcoming addition that incorporates bacon into the batter and comes topped with eggs, mushrooms, sausage and grilled tomatoes, gives away this part of his personal history). But it wasn't until he opened Wanna Waffle that he made one himself.
"I always get pulled back by the smell," Duy says.
While Wanna Waffle started out as a takeaway joint, the owners soon realised that it wasn't working. "This street isn't a walking street, like by the cathedral or Hoan Kiem Lake, so people won't eat right away," Duy explains. So he and his business partner Dinh Tuong Linh, whose wife owns the boutique next door, turned it into a sit-down eatery. Like Minh at Wunder Waffel, they're taking advantage of the holiday season to offer Christmas specials: smoked salmon and cream cheese, gingerbread batter topped with caramelised apple.
Duy and Linh see the place as "more than a waffle shop". A rack houses cookbooks, architecture journals, travel magazines, which diners are encouraged to peruse at their leisure. "People don't have the habit of sitting down in the garden to have a read," Duy says.
But the waffles are also worth sitting down for. The thick matcha waffle evokes a foamy cup of green tea, its balance of sweet and bitter echoed by green tea gelato and mango. A waffle studded with plump raisins and drizzled in chocolate sauce, banana and crumbled Oreos stops a breath short of too much sweetness. — VNS