Raindrop Cake, which debuted during the fourth week of Williamsburg’s Smorgasburg, is the focal point of online buzz right now, attracting New Yorkers and out-of-state foodies alike.
This translucent jelly-like dessert made from mineral water and agar first came out in Japan in 2014 under the name mizu shingen mochi, which translates to water cake. Darren Wong, a New York chef, popularized it in the U.S. and gave it its unique name.
Wong’s version, sold at $8, is served with black cane syrup and roasted soy powder on a birch wood boat plate. He took the existing idea of the cake from Japan and wanted to bring it to America.
“I read about it on the Internet,” Wong said. “I couldn’t go to Japan to try it so I wanna figure out how to make it right here, in the U.S.”
Wong said that he finally figured out the recipe and technique in January. Fans of the dessert are often surprised to learn that the 36-year-old vendor has never set foot in Japan and is not of Japanese heritage — he is, in fact, the son of first-generation immigrant parents from Hong Kong.
“It’s interesting that we are not actually the one who invented it. We simply popularized it in New York City,” he said.
So what does Raindrop Cake taste like, exactly?
Even Kyle Cheung, Wong’s cousin and partner in business, had a hard time pinpointing exactly what the cake tasted like.
“It’s been difficult to explain the flavor to American palate,” Cheung said. “The cake itself does not have too much of a taste and mainly provides texture. The black sugar cane syrup and the soy powder give it a nice kick of flavor.”
The preparation process every week can be arduous, according to Cheung. The cake involves just a few ingredients, but the combining of the ingredients to get the texture just right can take a long time.
“Kitchen time is two full days, if not more — we are still exploring the best way to make it and pack it,” Cheung said. “We use agar instead of gelatin. Agar is used in many Asian food preparations and unlike gelatin, it’s also vegan. Agar also creates a delicate texture that gelatin cannot.”
“We’ve been getting better and more efficient at the production process,” Wong said. “Last week, we had a lot of casualties and ended up throwing out a lot of them, but this week we got the agar-water ratio correct so we were able to finish them a little faster.”
Food lovers from around the U.S. lined up at Smorgasborg to be the first to taste this unique food creation. They had mixed reactions to the taste.
Huizhen Zhang, a Philadelphia resident and a Beijing native, said the taste of the cake reminded her of street food she got back home.
“The soy powder is so good,” Zhang said. “It’s very satiating and kind of tastes like ‘liangfen’ [starch jelly noodles].”
Raindrop Cake will be sold at Smorgasborg throughout the rest of April and May, after which Wong has plans to expand the locations where the cake is sold. As of right now, he’ll be bringing the Raindrop Cake to Los Angeles, after which it might extend to cities across the country.
Email Angelina Lan Xu at [email protected]