There are some things that are trendy because they're good and everyone likes them. Superhero movies, for instance (though the final episode of Community would argue otherwise). Then there are things that are trendy because they're weird and your friends post them to your Facebook wall with a measure of irony. Occasionally, an item has some success in both categories, such as the Cronut. Usually, though, the second category splatters your expectations like a raindrop on the sidewalk.
If anyone was going to love the raindrop cake, it would be me. I've talked, only half in jest, for years about quitting my job to become a full-time wagashi specialist. If I ever lost the ability to write, I'd probably get a job at a Minamoto Kitchoan (please come to Houston, Minamoto Kitchoan! PLEASE!) and get super fat eating peach-filled Hakutou jelly all day.
Those austere Japanese desserts that fuel my obsessions are the raindrop cake's ancestors. It descends directly from shingen mochi, a cake of ultra-soft pounded rice covered in brown sugar syrup and soy bean powder. Like Dominique Ansel's Cronut, the dessert is actually trademarked by the Kinseiken Seika Company in the Yamanashi prefecture; the water-filled version that spawned the raindrop cake trend is an even more rarified adaptation, which uses spring water from the Japanese Alps, also in Honshu.
But just as we've all had plenty of sparkling wine not grown in Champagne, the raindrop cake is making its way around the world. Its first stop in Houston that we've seen: Tea Bar & Organics in Chinatown's Dun Huang Plaza, though it's also available at the small chain's other locations around the Houston area.
I ordered mine with a cool glass of sugary lavender iced tea. The wait seemed interminable for my raindrop to well, drop, but it was probably just my blind excitement. What arrived looked more like a silicone (or perhaps, more accurately, saline) implant than the perfectly round domes I'd seen in pictures, but no matter. It was a raindrop cake, in front of me for real, presented whimsically on a leaf-shaped plate. The typical soy powder was replaced with fresh fruit and a single green macaron.
As my spoon cut through, a bit of liquid oozed from the clear blob. It felt just like slicing into Jell-O that's not fully set. Once on my tongue, that impression didn't change. This was plain gelatin that was a few minutes from achieving its ideal texture. I think that was the point, that extra water should fill my mouth, but I'm not certain. The dark syrup quickly overwhelmed the watery taste, and I just as quickly realized that eating unset Jell-O covered in what tasted like blackstrap molasses isn't altogether pleasant. I scraped the syrup from the fruit and ate it, as well as the perfectly pleasant macaron and left as quickly as possible, feeling deflated. File the raindrop cake under "disappointments I had to experience for myself."