Mickey Mouse-shaped waffles aren’t just a quintessential part of a Disney vacation. They’re as ubiquitous as sunscreen at the waterpark. Mickey Mouse waffles are available practically everywhere, if you know where to look. Sold more often in resorts than in-park, guests can order them at the fanciest sit-down restaurants in Walt Disney World, sneak them from the kids’ section of the Disneyland Hotel’s breakfast buffets, even enjoy them amid the Hawaiian breeze at Disney’s Aulani. Mickey waffles are cooked to perfection around the world, served with jam in France, mango in Japan, and chocolate syrup in Hong Kong. Brides have been known to request them at wedding receptions; families aboard Disney Cruise Line have devoured them on the high seas. If the crispy-edged buttermilk face cakes somehow don’t pass your lips while on property? Well, you did Disney all wrong.

Among Disneyphiles, inedible versions of the breakfast treat fare just as well. Souvenirs shaped like Mickey waffles are sold as dog chew toys, magnets and car air fresheners, as well as keychains and coin purses. Candles in the scent of the syrupy staple are for sale on Etsy, along with ear headbands, bowties and monogrammable T-shirts handmade in homage to the famed breakfast offering.

Disney parks are one of the only places in the world where people come to meet a celebrity while eating a plate of food in his likeness. So, how did a fluffy, friendly rodent face become one of the most popular edible icons at Disney properties worldwide? 

The specialty of the mouse house used to be a round Mickey pancake, but in the early 1980s, Disney began working with their supplier of batters and irons to see if one could be created in a Mickey shape. Part of the reason its history is buried is because it’s not just a single chef who dreamt it up—the Mickey waffle’s creation is spread throughout the company. Even Walt Disney Imagineering got involved to approve artwork and perfect the mold design, ensuring Mickey’s familiar face wouldn’t just melt away when splattered with batter. 

It’s impossible to pinpoint which restaurant served the first Mickey-shaped waffle, or how the dish spread throughout the many arms of Disney’s vacation outposts. It’s something both Disney and its guests never really recorded. Scrolling through thousands of strangers’ family photos snooping for a waffle on the table and scanning retro Disneyland menus across Pinterest and eBay proved inconclusive; even Werner Weiss, who chronicles all closed Disney outposts and attractions at the delightful Yesterland came up empty. But one thing is certain: once the Mickey-shaped delights started appearing on menus and buffets, they quickly became Disney’s most sought-after morning meal.

“For any breakfast location [there are] many, many varieties of breakfast offerings, but we always have waffles on the menu,” said Ed Wronski, the director of culinary development for Disney parks and resorts, who has been with the company for nearly three decades. He estimates that there are 300 Mickey waffle irons scattered across Walt Disney World’s food-service locations.

Mickey Waffles come in two sizes. The larger version takes up nearly an entire plate. The smaller version, mostly offered on kids’ menus, is served in multiples. Not that adults can’t indulge in the either variety—embracing your inner child at Disney parks is welcome across the board. “I think everybody can enjoy the Mickey waffle, no matter your age,” said AJ Wolfe. “If you’re bigger, you just eat more of them.”

As the founder of the Disney Food Blog, Wolfe exhaustively documents the food sold throughout Disneyland and Walt Disney World, including the various iterations of Mickey waffles. At Epcot’s Garden Grill they’re topped with chocolate-hazelnut sauce. At Wilderness Lodge’s Roaring Fork, they come topped with strawberries and whipped cream, covered in chocolate sauce and chips or dressed up like bananas foster—your choice.

As prominent as Mickey waffles are stateside, they’re just as iconic overseas. The mouse-shaped meal is offered at Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland.Tokyo Disneyland has an entire kiosk restaurant dedicated to Mickey waffles. At Great American Waffle Company, guests can enjoy seasonal offerings like sweetened adzuki red bean waffles with matcha ice cream, and even peek into the kitchen as they’re being made. Wronski, who worked on the development of the restaurant, was blown away by guests’ reaction. “[Having] people huddle up and constantly take pictures of our cast members producing those waffles was pretty exciting,” he said.

How could one food resonate so much with people who don’t speak the same language?

“Everyone around the world will see a Mickey Waffle and know that’s a Mickey Waffle,” explained Wolfe. Like with most of Disney’s heartstring-pulling experiences, it’s emotional, and waffles are no different. “It’s all about putting yourself in that vacation mindset,” Wolfe explains. “You’re there with your family... It’s the thing you work toward all year long, your Disney vacation, and to have a Mickey-shaped food, that just basically says, ‘Okay, it’s here, you’ve made it.’”

Despite many consumer-facing cookbooks, Disney’s official recipe has never actually been released; when asked whether the widely rumored Carbon’s Golden Malted Flour is truly the secret ingredient, Wronski replied: “I can acknowledge that that is our supplier.”

The secrecy hasn’t stopped anyone, though. If Disney fans err on the side of obsessive, they are voracious when it comes to cult foods, flooding the internet with recipes for enjoying Mickey waffles between visits. “So many people are interested in how [to] get the exact same flavor, the exact same ingredients,” explains Wolfe. “They want to recreate their Disney experience and that’s why I think they love it so much. It’s just like, ‘This is Disney for me. This is what it is to be at Disney, and if I can do that at home then I can have a little piece of it.’”

Wolfe also runs Mickey Fix, an affiliate site highlighting Disney items from around the web. The item they sell the most? Mickey waffle makers, at just over $30 a pop. But these personal Mickey waffle irons (also available on Amazon, at Target, and at Kohl’s) seem intentionally inferior to the famed version, producing a flat, pancake-like Mickey that never rises to fluffy, crispy perfection or puff ears to the deep syrup-collecting depths of legitimate iterations. Earlier irons, which were said to have been more consistent with the in-park version, were recalled in the late ’90s. (Still, the ridges on those ears look good enough to risk an electrical fire.)

Perhaps that’s the true essence of Disney magic. You can get your fix from afar, but you’ll have to come back to get the real thing.