CLEVELAND, Ohio – Think you know waffles? Think again.
Once you have tasted a bubble waffle from AsiaTown’s Ball Ball Waffle, you’ll realize that waffles are not just for breakfast anymore.
Bubble waffles – or GaiDanZai (which means “little chicken eggs” in Cantonese) – are traditional street food in Hong Kong. These treats were invented by shopkeepers during the 1950s who didn’t want broken or unsold eggs to go to waste. They mixed them with a little milk and flour, and cooked the batter in molds, then sold the snack one bubble at a time.
Given that March 25 is International Waffle Day, cleveland.com’s Best of team, of Yadi Rodriguez and Brenda Cain, couldn’t resist stopping by Ball Ball Waffle to learn more about this twist on a popular breakfast food that is taking the culinary world by storm.
Aldous Lau introduced Clevelanders to the bubble waffle in 2018 – the same year a bubble waffle shop was invited to set up at the Super Bowl. Both Lau, and his wife, Alice, were journalists in Hong Kong with Aldous reporting on lifestyle trends. His family of him had spent nearly a decade traveling between Hong Kong and the United States to visit family before deciding to immigrate.
Once in Cleveland, Lao soon picked up on the fact that his hometown street food was developing into an international trend. He first sold his bubble waffles from a small tent during that year’s Asian Festival. The long lines at Lau’s stand caught the attention of the owner of the Asia Plaza, who offered him a space in the mall.
“We had such long lines and people asking us where they could buy them all the time, that we got the idea that maybe we could make it work as a business,” Lau explained.
Lau’s stand opened in 2019 and his confections quickly caught on.
Following a one-month closure due to the pandemic, the family business came back strong, with just one adjustment – Lau closed his dining room. But customers still came, happy to take the treats — which can be warmed in the oven or your air fryer — home.
The unique texture of Lau’s waffles is what makes it stand apart from other waffles. It is crispy on the outside, with a soft, cake-like texture inside, and a pocket of air in the center. The crispiness is accomplished by hitting the waffle with a cool blast of air the minute it comes out of the waffle iron. The resulting flavor is slightly sweet.
“In the West, people see waffles as a dessert or something you have for breakfast,” says Lau. “But they’re an entire meal, especially how we make them. You can eat a bubble waffle any time,” he said. “It’s an all-day waffle.”
Lau uses the waffle’s tiny pockets to add fillings – everything from matcha (green tea) to mochi (tiny Japanese rice cakes which resemble marshmallows) to pulverized Oreos or cheese and bacon. The shop sells more than 10 flavor combinations – both sweet and savory – with the most popular being the Hong Kong-style waffle, topped with sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter, which Lau said he grew up eating.
You can pair your waffle with another authentic treat — Hong Kong milk tea, a strong caffeinated black tea mixed with condensed milk. Coffee, not your jam? You may still enjoy the balance of milk and tea flavors with a definite sweet aftertaste. And if a traditional waffle is not to your liking, Lau can roll it into a cone and fill it with ice cream and toppings.
Ball Ball Waffle is located at 2999 Payne Ave., inside the Asia Plaza.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism