This New $4.49 TJ’s Find Is Selling Like Hotcakes—I Love Them Too


Growing up in New York City, my Cantonese mother, who hails from Hong Kong, would buy my baby sister and me a dollar’s worth of bubble waffles, or gai daan jai (鷄蛋仔), to share every weekend.

We’d get about 20 pieces in a hot, brown paper bag, and Mom always took two pieces as “food tax.” When we reached our grandparents’ apartment on East Broadway from Pell Street and Bowery, the bag would be empty, and my sister and I always wished we each had our own bag.

Bubble waffles were a huge part of my mother’s childhood, my childhood, and, nowadays, my son’s. This treat means so much to me that I even developed a recipe for it in my second cookbook.

When I learned about Trader Joe’s bubble waffles, my excitement was palpable (I squealed). I was so eager to try them that I made two trips from Renton to Kent despite my dislike for driving. On the first day, the waffles hadn’t arrived yet, so I asked an associate named Kyle to hold two units for me. I picked them up the next day, and when I checked, I found the freezer aisle empty of the waffles. It was clear that these waffles were in high demand.

This doesn’t surprise me. For $4.49, you get four four-inch frozen waffles per box. The box, pink and yellow, is super cute, and even if someone doesn’t know what a bubble waffle is, I feel they’d gravitate toward the box.

Now, while these waffles have a chewy mochi-like middle, they aren’t gluten-free since they contain wheat flour. What gives them the mochi texture is tapioca starch (the primary ingredient of boba pearls) rather than glutinous rice flour (the primary ingredient of mochi). I looked all over the box, hoping for a mention of Hong Kong or a blurb explaining bubble waffles, but I couldn’t find any.

Simply Recipes / Trader Joe’s

What I Love About Trader Joe’s Bubble Waffles

Once back at home, I immediately made the waffles for brunch, following the easy heating instructions on the packaging. Trader Joe’s prefers them air-fried but also offers instructions on using the toaster oven or microwave.

I heated two in the air fryer for five minutes, one in the toaster for six minutes, and one in the microwave for under one minute. There was no significant difference between the air-fried and toasted waffles: both versions had a shiny, crispy exterior with a chewy, soft interior.

The microwaved version, however, lacked the crispiness and was very soft and chewy, like a big, hot boba pearl. I enjoyed the air-fried and toasted versions more. For busy moms like me, in a pinch, you can quickly whip up these waffles, and I appreciate that.

These bubble waffles are also legit in terms of aesthetics and smell. Taste-wise, they’re a little heavier on the vanilla notes and sweeter than the bubble waffles I’ve gotten from Cantonese street vendors or made myself. But that means you can enjoy these on their own, without a drizzle of caramel, syrup, or honey, for breakfast or as a snack. And being on the smaller side, these waffles go down fast. Before I knew it, I had finished one and moved on to a second. (Justified, though, because I was testing them for this article!)

Bubble waffles from Hong Kong were invented around the sixties when street vendors needed a way to use up broken or leftover eggs. I always thought these waffles were called gai daan jai (which means little chicken eggs in Cantonese) because they included eggs. Now I realize they’re named this way for their shapes—each waffle bubble resembles a little brown egg. So, lastly and somewhat ironically, I love that these bubble waffles are egg-free and vegan, making these snacks more inclusive and friendly for those with dairy or egg allergies.

While these bubble waffles are not exactly like the ones from my childhood, they’re a fun modern twist. I’m happy that a snack from my childhood and memory lane is now accessible to a wider audience—a piece of Hong Kong street food can be in your freezer too!

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