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Dec 15, 2000 07:43 PM

"Egg Bomb"

  • m

or zha dan (exploding egg)is a deep-fried, hollow in the middle, spherical crunchy fritter about the size of a softball. Dipped in granulated sugar and made of ultra-eggy batter, these are everything that pâte à choux, beignets, or french cruller do-nuts could only hope to be.

The ultimate zha dan came from the dearly-departed Jackson Cafe which was a Chinese-American restaurant in SF's Chinatown. This was a favorite spot for the tasty and very cheap wo choy menu. Sharing one of these eggy pastries for dessert was a much anticipated treat as a child. When all the leftovers had been boxed up, I knew it was time to ask my mom for a shiny quarter to buy one from the cashier.

They seem to have gone out of fashion, none to be found in recent years. But last week I spotted a trayful on top of the counter at New Ping Yuen Bakery & Restaurant on Stockton Street. Turned out they were still warm - even better! Taking that first crackly bite and tasting the rich moist double yolk goodness brought back a flood of memories from childhood. Not quite as good as I remember Jackson's (too oily) but very satisfying indeed. And, the price has only gone up to 40 cents.

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  1. "The ultimate zha dan came from the dearly-departed Jackson Cafe which was a Chinese-American restaurant in SF's Chinatown."

    Wouldn't the ultimate ones come from somewhere in China? Or is this an American dish?

    And what is "wo choy"?


    9 Replies
    1. re: Pedro

      The ultimate zha dan may be in China, but I haven't ever seen one, let alone eaten one over there.

      Connecting a couple more dots here, another thing that Jackson Cafe was known for was its coffee (this was 35 years ago, before espresso bars). My parents called it Chinese coffee, based on the method used over a camp fire in the early days of California. I had described it to a friend from Oklahoma and he said that was "cowboy coffee". Anyway, the coffee was extremely smooth and not at all bitter. This was accomplished by using egg shells and egg whites as fining agents to remove the grounds and reduce the tannins.

      This would have created an excess of leftover egg yolks. What better use than to make zha dan.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        How do you make this coffee with the egg shells? My husband's grandfather used to own the old Fook Sing Grocery very close to Jackson Cafe for 20-plus years and his family frequented the cafe often. In fact, they still talk about their coffee, but none of them know how to make it. I'd love to learn how, and surprise the in-laws.

        1. re: Macky
          Melanie Wong

          This is so cool, Macky! I don't really have a personal memory of the coffee so don't know how it would stack up against today's standards. If they're still talking about it, it must have been really special.

          Sorry, but I don't know how it's done. I searched for "cowboy coffee" and found the recipe link below which uses egg shells added with the grounds. My understanding is that adding egg whites helped settle the grounds, so maybe you should try making a slurry of one egg white and a little cold water and add at the point the recipe says to add cold water (which sinks and carries the grounds to the bottom of the pot). The egg white would also have the effect of fining the tannins and making the coffee less bitter.

          This will probably require some experimentation. Please let us know how it turns out.


          1. re: Melanie Wong


            I've read a recipe for this somewhere myself. I'll take a look through the library and see if I can't scare it up.

            1. re: Brandon
              Melanie Wong

              Hey Brandon! Nice to see you buddy.

              I'll bet Jackson Cafe used Farmer Brothers Coffee which was the quality brand of the day.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Guess what? I just found out that my husband's Uncle Walter used to work at Jackson Cafe for many years! I haven't seen him since our wedding a few months back but I'll do my best to try and track him down and get the scoop from him.

                1. re: Macky
                  Melanie Wong

                  I can hardly wait, Macky! And, please ask him if anyone is making good zha dan these days. Any kitchen alumni still working anywhere?

                  Was Uncle Walter a cook or a waiter? You just reminded me that Jackson Cafe was a favorite for my cousins and me when we were in college not only for the food but because the waiters were so kind. Not speaking Chinese was very problematic at the time and we were sujected to some really rude waiters at other restaurants.

            2. re: Melanie Wong

              This is also an old Scandinavian technique, though admittedly I've never tried it myself. Try doing a web search for "egg coffee" or looking in Scandinavian cookbooks.

              1. re: Karl
                Melanie Wong

                Thanks so much for the tip, Karl!

                Here's a link. Google turned up several more variations under "egg coffee" too.