You’ve probably heard about boba pizza or bubble tea pancakes before, foods that show how society has taken its obsession with the Taiwanese milk tea to a whole new level.
Amidst this craze, all we’re thinking is: why? Because these boba dishes don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, we took it upon ourselves to investigate and find out why people seem to want them so badly.
Boba Pearl Pancakes
Let’s start off easy. The first thing we tried was Boba Pancakes. These have become somewhat common in Singapore, with bubble tea chains like Gong Cha serving them.
These were a good way to ease into our journey because pancakes are usually sweet, anyway.
Apart from the boba, this was your run-of-the-mill pancake dessert — fluffy pancakes, with cream, and maple syrup. However, unlike the breakfast classic, this came with ice cream and was topped with tapioca pearls.
Eating this was like playing a game of tag for the pearls, because they were far too slippery for our forks and knives. The pancakes were nice, but a bit heavy. The pearls didn’t add much, considering all the other elements were more flavourful. It also took much longer to chew on the boba, which only broke up after we’ve swallowed the pancake.
Ranking: 8/10. Will eat again, because any pancake addict needs to spice it up and get something different from the usual, from time to time.
Boba Pearl Toastie
Then, there was the Boba Pearl Toastie. This was our first step into the wild side of boba food creations. It’s two slices of toast with a thick layer of caramel (which tasted more like cookie butter) and a cluster of boba pearls in the middle.
We got more pearls with each bite than with the pancakes, since they were trapped in the bread. Its consistency was really squishy, but lovers of the gingery cookie butter are in luck because it definitely took the spotlight.
Ranking: 6/10. Will not eat again, because toasties shouldn’t be this sweet and squishy. Honorable mention for the nice taste, however.
Mini Bubble Tea Cake
As if reading our minds, a colleague had a box of mini bubble tea cakes lying around as we were conducting our investigation. It was also proof that, apparently, there really is a demand for these Franken-desserts.
These are small, individually wrapped, rectangular cakes that look like Taiwanese pineapple tarts on the outside. On the inside, they’re nothing alike. Instead of a pineapple jam filling, the cake was stuffed with a paste of what appeared to be squashed tapioca pearls. The inside was squishy and only had a hint of milk tea flavour.
It was sweet and pasty, which made it hard to swallow at times.
Verdict: 4/10. Will not eat again. The sweet tapioca flavour fits in pearl form, but not as a pasty mush. Its only redeeming factor was the crumbly crust.
Bubble Tea Hot Pot
This was an adventure, to say the least. Hot pot, also known as steamboat, is a savoury soup where ingredients like mushrooms, meat, and noodles are cooked. They’re usually warm and comforting but this was… nauseating.
Like all hot pots, this one started with, well, a pot. Instead of soup, it contained a sweet foamy cream that tasted like condensed milk. That was topped with chicken floss, cocoa powder, and crushed Oreos that formed a smiley face.
Restaurant staff first scooped out the top layer and moved it to individual bowls. Then, they switched on the heat under the hot pot and brought a tray with food to throw in. The cubed jelly bits, fresh watermelon, Oreos, and boba pearls somewhat made sense, but it all got weird when we noticed the white radish, savoury crackers, and… strips of pork-meat.
We powered through and threw them in the pot after the sweet liquid started bubbling. We started with Oreos, watermelon, and a few pearls. When they heated up a bit, we added them to our bowls.
I did not eat the meat, but a friend who did said that it was surprisingly tender and spicy. They must have seasoned it well for the sweet cream to not infiltrate the meat.
The Oreos were OK. They melted a bit, which gave them a brownie-like texture. What was not OK was the fresh watermelon and the crackers that tasted like seaweed. These, added into a bowl of sweet liquid with chewy boba pearls, made the most bizarre concoction.
Verdict: 2/10. Will not eat again. I Don’t think I need to explain why after recounting what we went through.
Bubble Tea Tart
After the hot pot experience that we couldn’t talk about for a few days, trying these bubble tea tarts felt like going from a budget airline meal to a gourmet restaurant.
That said, it still wasn’t anything to write home about. The buttery crust was great, but the thick milk tea paste in the middle and pearl toppings made it hard to get through a few bites. One colleague who had a taste couldn’t even swallow it because of the chewy texture.
Verdict: 6/10. Will eat again because it tastes good, if you can get over the texture.
Our conclusion after all this sugar, boba, and spice is this: boba-inspired food is neither amazing, nor terrible. We’re all for a good Insta-worthy dish, and we’ve decided that that’s exactly why these are so popular. It's definitely not for the taste alone because, most of the time, the pearls did not even add much, flavour-wise.
Just as we suspected, even milk tea lovers will likely end up craving for the drink more than be satisfied by any of these experiments. Our advice: just go get yourself a tall glass of chilled boba.