Bubblewrap is a dessert bar in London's Chinatown that serves gai daan jai, a type of egg waffle from Hong Kong with a ball shape-covered surface. To achieve this distinctive shape, batter is cooked at a high heat in a special waffle iron with spherical indents.
HK street vendors usually serve the bobbly waffles plain, but Bubblewrap fold theirs into a cone and fill with gelato and an array of toppings including fresh berries, Oreos, fudge, and pecans. Since opening in March, people have been queuing around the block to eat (and Instagram) these bubble-shaped waffle/ice cream hybrids.
We reached out to Bubblewrap founder Tony Fang and his business partner Sunny Wu, both of whom grew up eating traditional egg waffles, to find out why they wanted to reinvent the much loved street snack.
Tony Fang, founder of Bubblewrap. The idea for Bubblewrap began as my Masters degree project when I was studying at Imperial College London and I ended up winning an award. When we officially launched, we dipped our toes in various markets all over London. We were trading for almost a year and a half before looking to settle permanently in Chinatown.
What we're doing is presenting things in a new light. Egg waffles or gai daan jais were first seen on the streets of Hong Kong around the early 1950s. They were originally conceived as a way of using up eggs that would otherwise be wasted. People would create a batter with leftover eggs mixed with flour, milk, and sugar and they invented an egg waffle machine that ran on either coal fire heating or gas, with a giant gas canister that would sit next to the machine. The whole thing was portable so that hawkers could move their equipment easily on the streets. Little did they know that the mash-up of unwanted ingredients would turn into one of the nation's most iconic street snacks!
It's crazy how egg waffles have gained so much popularity over the years. They're now considered Hong Kong's number one street food—there's even an egg waffle festival.
Cooking and assembling an egg waffle dessert can take anything between three and six minutes, but it depends on whether I'm cooking or one of our new members of staff who's still getting the hang of things. They panic while cooking because the waffle iron can get extremely hot—up to 180 degrees. The trick is to fill all the iron's holes with batter very quickly, then swirl it in one direction so that it spreads out evenly.
We've never claimed authority on the original egg waffle because it's been one of Hong Kong's most popular street foods since the 1950s. All we've done is redesign it with local ingredients. I think the reason for egg waffles becoming so popular in London is because we've done our homework and built up a reputation from our different market locations. This surge didn't happen overnight: we worked hard for it, we did our research, and we trialled and tested different batters and toppings.
Originally, we wanted to sell coffee alongside our egg waffles—that's why there are holes in the counter to place the wraps in, so that people could sit down and relax. But ever since we've opened, it's been a nonstop whirlwind with bleeping cooking timers everywhere and people paying other people to stand in the queue for them!
It can be quite nerve-wracking with a giant queue that's been waiting for hours, staring down at you while you're going as fast as you can making the waffles, but I'm so grateful that Bubblewrap is popular. I wouldn't change it for the world.
Sunny Wu, Bubblewrap marketing manager. Tony and I have been friends for years, so I've known about Bubblewrap from the very beginning. I wasn't entirely convinced when he asked me to join the business because it's always risky to dedicate yourself to new start-ups. Eventually though, I took the plunge, quit my job, and haven't looked back.
Having grown up in Hong Kong and China, I've had my fair share of egg waffles! The difference between our egg waffles and the ones on the Hong Kong streets is that theirs are always quite chewy and heavy, but our recipe is a lot thinner and crispier—similar to a crêpe mixture.
We've got three different flavour bases (plain, cocoa, and matcha), 20 different toppings ranging from Kit Kats to mochi, and nine different gelato flavours. We work with an Italian gelato company to create our own flavours and source everything locally. Overall, I think we have more than 250 waffle flavour combinations.
I think what kickstarted the egg waffles' popularity here in the UK is mainly down to social media. The waffles have been around in Hong Kong for more than 60 years, but it just hasn't really been introduced to the younger generation and it's still very much a regional thing. I guess we just got lucky and lots of people started to share the news of our store opening and people took an interest in us. I also think the way we present our food has definitely helped contribute to our success. We've somehow managed to carve out a niche for ourselves.
When things calm down and it's not so manic, we want to start doing workshops so that customers can learn how to make the batter and create their own waffle creations. But the main focus of Bubblewrap is to bring our childhood egg waffle memories to the British public. Eventually, I think people will start to be more interested in the culture and history behind the snack.
Welcome to Chinese food week on MUNCHIES! Every day this week, we'll be exploring the stories that make up this diverse cuisine, from mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to the bustling Chinatowns of major Western cities and the potsticker-filled kitchens of Chinese home cooks living across the world. We hope you're hungry. Click here to read more.