Most of us are familiar with the old saying “you eat with your eyes.” Thanks to social media, that might be truer than ever. How often are you driven to try things these days not by word of mouth but by what you see on Instagram? #foodporn is real, and it can be a real boon to restaurants serving up dynamic looking dishes.
Still, I think that at the end of the day most people want their food to be more function than form. Having a dish wow you before you take a bite of it is nice, but if that bite doesn’t impress you’re going to forget all about how great it looked—at least until someone mentions seeing the photo on your timeline and asks if it tasted as good as it looked. If you can get the best of both worlds that's awesome, but you know that over the course of your life you’ve eaten plenty of dishes that no amount of filtering could make attractive but still packed in some serious flavor.
Which brings us to raindrop cake. Houstonia has sat down with this dish before, but recent news of a new location serving it up put it back on our radar. I can think of no dish that better conjures questions of form versus function than it, so when I found out that it was available at The Bep in Chinatown, I decided to drop in and see if it would baffle me the way it has baffled other Houstonians.
There’s no denying that a raindrop cake looks impressive. Even though I know how they’re made and have a rough idea of the chemistry involved, I won’t deny that seeing one in person was still kind of magical. The one The Bep serves is a beautiful color, and I enjoyed the simple, clean plating. If I still used Instagram, I’d be proud to post a photo of it.
But the spell breaks pretty quickly once it comes time to eat it. You might feel guilty at first, knowing that you’re going to ruin this gem with your spoon, but the truth is you’re going to have seriously commit to eating this thing. One does not simply scoop up a bite of raindrop cake—you have to be willing to attack this thing to get it on your spoon, it somehow existing as both tough and jiggly at the same time. Bring a friend so you can work together to corner it as you get near the last few bites, as it will wiggle all across the plate if you don't.
For your effort, you’re rewarded with… something? Served with brown sugar syrup and roasted soybean flour, what flavor is there is faint unless you're willing to deal with the odd mouthfeel of a particularly large bite. The syrup is not a bad enhancer for the cake itself—the soybean flour did nothing for me—but I couldn’t help but feeling that at the end of the day I was just kind of eating bland Jell-O without the benefit of having a handy cup to scoop it out of.
As an art piece, raindrop cake is great. As a dish, it’s nothing to write home about, but that’s sort of the point; if ever there was a dish that was better eaten with your eyes and not your mouth, the raindrop cake is it.