Let’s face it — as busy college students we don’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. Luckily, Trader Joe’s has an amazingly stocked frozen food aisle to meet your desire for a delicious meal without all the hassle. As a Trader Joe’s fan who grew up in a Chinese household, I set out to try all the frozen Chinese food items offered and power rank them in this list!
6. Chicken chow mein ($4.99)
Ranked sixth is the chicken chow mein because of its lack of authenticity when compared to both Chinese and Chinese-American chow mein. Despite not resembling the usual flavors and ingredients, the chow mein still provides a tasty and unique twist to the dish. One package of chicken chow mein includes two bunches of noodles, assorted vegetables and pieces of chicken meat with one sauce packet. I highly recommend using the stovetop method to heat up this dish. The sauce is thick and sweet, similar to a teriyaki flavor, but chow mein sauce is usually a savory soy sauce-based thin sauce. The thickness of the sauce caused the noodles to clump together, leaving the vegetables flavorless. Additionally, while the chow mein image on the package showed large green broccoli florets, the reality was just a few crumbly pieces.
5. Pork gyoza potstickers ($3.79)
In fifth place are the pork gyoza potstickers. The potstickers contained a combination of pork and chives inside a potsticker dumpling wrap. To maximize taste, I recommend using the pan-fry method instead of steaming. The dumplings had a balanced meat-to-wrapper ratio and the bottom of the dumpling was very crispy when pan-fried. Points for authenticity can be given to the pork and chive dumpling filling, which tasted very similar to the ones served at dumpling restaurants, though still too salty to be truly authentic. I was also disappointed to find the package only included seven potstickers, which in my opinion is too few for one sitting.
4. Mandarin orange chicken ($4.99)
A contentious decision, the infamous orange chicken ranks fourth on this list. Branded as the bestselling prepared meal by Trader Joe’s in 2021, the orange chicken is widely loved for its crispy chicken pieces coated in a flavorful sweet and sour sauce with tangy citrus notes. However, I docked points because I noticed inconsistencies in each piece of chicken, with some being very dry while others were super juicy. However, I did like having the ability to control how much sauce I used, as I only needed about 1.5 packets of sauce to give an even coating. The chicken came out very crispy using the stovetop method and may be easily reheated with an air fryer too.
3. Vegetable fried rice ($2.99)
The unassuming vegetable fried rice takes the third spot. The flavored rice comes with edamame, peas, corn, carrots, red bell peppers and green onions. From the start, I was already highly skeptical because edamame and bell peppers are not typically used in Chinese fried rice. I was afraid it would end up deviating too far from authentic Chinese fried rice. I also had little hope because the color of the rice was very light and didn’t look flavored enough. After the taste test though, I’ve learned not to judge a dish by its cover. The fried rice packed in a good amount of savory flavor and the vegetables all mixed well into the dish. Additional points go to the meal for its affordability, being the lowest-priced item on this whole list.
2. Chicken shu mai ($3.49)
It came as a surprise for me that chicken shu mai ultimately ranked the second highest because I’m very picky with shu mai — my favorite type is street food style. The Trader Joe’s shu mai is smaller than the ones served at dim sum, but the flavor profile reminded me exactly of that. While this type of shu mai may not be for everyone, I found it enjoyable and its price point was very affordable.
1. Chicken soup dumplings ($3.49)
These soup dumplings take the crown! While steaming these dumplings, I immediately smelled the hunger-inducing aroma wafting through my kitchen. Also known as Xiao Long Bao, soup dumplings contain a ball of meat with a rich broth wrapped inside a thin dumpling wrap. The most difficult part in ensuring these taste delicious lies in making a good broth that’s thin enough to not overpower the filling inside, but also won’t easily break open. Trader Joe’s soup dumplings come pretty close to achieving that, with a nice creamy chicken broth in a thin yet sturdy wrapper. I only wish that the broth’s flavor was more intense, but overall these were probably the best tasting and most authentic soup dumplings.
How does this ranking compare to your personal choices? Not sure? Then head on over to Trader Joe’s and pick out some of these affordable, delicious and close-to-authentic Chinese meals in the frozen food aisle!
Contact Emily Lui at [email protected].