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Dessert for your camera

Photographing — and eating — raindrop cakes

A New York trend in 2016, so-called raindrop cakes now turn up at San Diego food markets.
A New York trend in 2016, so-called raindrop cakes now turn up at San Diego food markets.

They’ve been labeled a “viral food,” and “cult dessert,” and been likened to silicone breast implants. The Japanese call them mizu shingen mochi, but the internet really fell in love with them in 2016, when they showed up in New York under a compelling English name: raindrop cakes.

I found raindrop cakes offered by a booth at the weekly Lane Field Park Market, a newish outdoor street food gathering across from downtown’s waterfront. They were being served by PoPo Bros, a pop up food vendor that otherwise specializes in butterfly pea tea and straight-out-of-the-coconut juice.

Cake is a misnomer. There’s nothing whatsoever cakey about the translucent, gelatinous orbs. They do, however, look exactly like water droplets. That plus a “no calorie” designation conspired to make the photogenic dessert a sensation.

That’s no calories if you eat them on their own, which wouldn’t be super rewarding because they’re essentially flavorless Jello, made in a round mold. Except, unlike Jello, which is made from gelatin derived from animal bones, raindrop cakes are free of animal byproduct. They’re made using agar, a byproduct of seaweed.

The flavor of raindrop cakes depends on how you serve it, and PoPo Bros does so with fresh fruit and sweet syrup, along with a dusting of roasted soybean powder and matcha, a powdered form of green tea. Large blobs for $7, small for $5. Either due to miscommunication or straight generosity, I wound up with plenty of blobs of both sizes. Sorry, cakes.

I don’t have any idea what the caloric impact of strawberries and blueberries might be, nor the added syrup and powders, but I wager the dessert’s about as diet-friendly as it is fun to photograph. Don’t linger too long over those aperture settings, though, I’ve read these things tend to start dissolving when not eaten right away. For a water-clear image, your best bet is a white background, so my shots against PoPo’s cardboard containers appear more opaque in photos than they do IRL.

Oh, and eating raindrop cakes proved pretty fun too. The caramelized sweetness of the black syrup, combined with scattered umami hits of soy and green tea, do just enough to keep the whole thing from feeling like a bizarre deconstruction of a Jello salad. The edible flowers added to the visual appeal more than the taste, but paired well in photos with that Lane Field grass.

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A New York trend in 2016, so-called raindrop cakes now turn up at San Diego food markets.
A New York trend in 2016, so-called raindrop cakes now turn up at San Diego food markets.

They’ve been labeled a “viral food,” and “cult dessert,” and been likened to silicone breast implants. The Japanese call them mizu shingen mochi, but the internet really fell in love with them in 2016, when they showed up in New York under a compelling English name: raindrop cakes.

I found raindrop cakes offered by a booth at the weekly Lane Field Park Market, a newish outdoor street food gathering across from downtown’s waterfront. They were being served by PoPo Bros, a pop up food vendor that otherwise specializes in butterfly pea tea and straight-out-of-the-coconut juice.

Cake is a misnomer. There’s nothing whatsoever cakey about the translucent, gelatinous orbs. They do, however, look exactly like water droplets. That plus a “no calorie” designation conspired to make the photogenic dessert a sensation.

That’s no calories if you eat them on their own, which wouldn’t be super rewarding because they’re essentially flavorless Jello, made in a round mold. Except, unlike Jello, which is made from gelatin derived from animal bones, raindrop cakes are free of animal byproduct. They’re made using agar, a byproduct of seaweed.

The flavor of raindrop cakes depends on how you serve it, and PoPo Bros does so with fresh fruit and sweet syrup, along with a dusting of roasted soybean powder and matcha, a powdered form of green tea. Large blobs for $7, small for $5. Either due to miscommunication or straight generosity, I wound up with plenty of blobs of both sizes. Sorry, cakes.

I don’t have any idea what the caloric impact of strawberries and blueberries might be, nor the added syrup and powders, but I wager the dessert’s about as diet-friendly as it is fun to photograph. Don’t linger too long over those aperture settings, though, I’ve read these things tend to start dissolving when not eaten right away. For a water-clear image, your best bet is a white background, so my shots against PoPo’s cardboard containers appear more opaque in photos than they do IRL.

Oh, and eating raindrop cakes proved pretty fun too. The caramelized sweetness of the black syrup, combined with scattered umami hits of soy and green tea, do just enough to keep the whole thing from feeling like a bizarre deconstruction of a Jello salad. The edible flowers added to the visual appeal more than the taste, but paired well in photos with that Lane Field grass.

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