Behold the beginning of our 100 Favorite Dishes of 2016 listicle! Every day through the publication of our Best Of 2016 issue (and sometimes, twice a day), we'll be bringing you our favorite dishes across Orange County, leading up to the best in the land. Enjoy!
First, it was the blueberry donut; then, the cronut. We're still in the Milky Bun era, and churros are popping up.
But OC's Instagram and Snapchat foodie community is going nuts right now over the "raindrop cake." This zero-calorie water-based dessert, originally called "mizu shingen mochi" in Japan, is now here courtesy of Sunmerry Bakery in Irvine, a bakery whose roots reach all the way back to 1960s Japan.
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This translucent, jiggly blob is made from mineral water and agar-agar, a derivative of seaweed that serves the same purpose as gelatin. Unlike those fruit-filled jelly snacks in plastic jugs from the Asian market, the raindrop cake is much larger and smoother, texturally similar to a perfect panna cotta, and dissolves as soon as it hits your tongue—something you've never experienced. The half-dome faux cake acts as your base; in terms of taste, it's about as appealing as lightly sweetened water can get—think of shaved ice before the toppings.
Sunmerry offers two flavors: original or strawberry. The original comes with kinako, a nutty soy flour, and rich brown sugar syrup that when combined tastes like the Asian cousin of PB&J, the dry kinako acting as a powdery foil for the molasses dip and chunks of refreshing jelly. The strawberry version offers a Graham cracker crumble with condensed milk and a half strawberry encased in the gelatinous orb, flavorfully reminiscent of those strawberry shortcake bars from your neighborhood ice cream man. Go with the original, as you get more "cake" to engage all your senses. Whichever you choose, the hype is real. Just make sure to utilize those condiments with each bite—you're eating water, after all.
Sunmerry Bakery , 14805 Jeffrey Rd. Ste. E, Irvine, (949) 431-6174; $4 for Original, $4.50 for Strawberry.