Another spectacle that’s been burning up IG feeds in New York, and will likely do the same in Los Angeles now that it’s arrived at Smorgasburg LA, is the Raindrop Cake from Darren Wong. This cake looks like a giant, jiggling droplet and is made from spring water and shapeable algae-derived agar. Wong himself first spotted the blob-like dessert (known as mizu shingen mochi in Japan) on social media and had eaten similar jelly desserts growing up, so was inspired to create his own version. “What struck me the most is the surprise that people have. People go into this thinking that because it looks like a giant drop of water that it’s not going to be flavorful, but when they do try it they’re often surprised and really enjoy it.” It’s definitely a delicate and subtle flavor, accented by the toppings like sugar cane syrup and roasted soybean flour, but it’s pretty refreshing nonetheless. Wong is also experimenting with new flavors, including a s’mores Raindrop Cake, to keep things interesting.
“It’s almost like dinner and a show,” Wong says of the growing trend of Instagram-focused foods. “These plates are a performance now. The plate doesn’t just come to your table, there has to be some sort of interaction with it.”
So, Is Cooking for Instagram a Smart Move for Restaurants?
While the buzz created by a wild-looking dish can definitely be a big win for a restaurant or food truck, especially for newcomers, there are also potential downsides to the ‘Gram game. “It depends on what type of food business that you want to start,” Wong explains. For a spot like Raindrop Cake, which specializes in one or two dishes, tapping into the power of viral visuals can really help. Restaurants with an extensive and diverse menu, on the other hand, may get pigeonholed if they’re only recognized for a singular, Instagram-worthy dish.
Whether it’s the eatery's one and only offering, or a new dish aimed at bringing in new customers, there’s also the risk of Instagram fatigue. After all, there’s only so many times you can double-tap on that crazy new creation, before you get bored of seeing it in your feed. “People do get tired of them,” Wong continues. “I think there’s a limited shelf life if you focus on one item. It’s like diversifying stocks: if you focus too much on one item, eventually you’ll run out of people who want to try it. And then you need another hit item, and that becomes a very difficult model to sustain if you’re just trying to turn out one hit after another.”