Monday, January 23, 2017

Somi Somi: Taiyaki Sundaes in Koreatown

Growing  up in Hong Kong, one of my favorite memories was after-school treats at the wonderland of a food hall, below an iconic Japanese department store called SOGO.  Among gleaming cases of artfully wrapped cookies, boxes of perfect rice cracker snacks, and stalls serving steaming bowls of ramen - was a magical grill from which they pulled out a fish shaped 'pancake' stuffed with red bean paste, and awarded it to my eagerly waiting chubby little hands like the greatest treasure in the world. I couldn't have made this analogy at the time, but looking back they were like dessert hot pockets, but fish-shaped on the outside with sweet filling on the inside

For many years as an adult in LA, I couldn't find this beloved snack ('taiyaki' in Japanese) anywhere - until I spotted it at a stall in the food court at Mitsuwa Torrance a few years back, only to have it abruptly replaced with takoyaki. Then, by some foodie wizardry it seemed, several dessert houses resurfaced taiyaki in a different form around the same time: as a base 'cone' for sundaes - maybe we have Instagram to thank for the quick proliferation of photogenic foods such as this - but several I tried were more about the photo opp than taste / texture. 

Then came Somi Somi, and their Ah-Boong ($5.95) served in made to order taiyaki cones. You can make your own sundae by choosing from organic ice cream flavors like True Milk, Green Tea, Banana, Chocolate, then selecting from filling options like red bean, custard or Nutella; or choose from set combos for the same price.

As a green tea fan, but also wanting to try their 'true milk' ice cream, I went for the preset Greenpuccino Boong with a swirl of green tea + milk ice cream, and red bean filling inside the 'fish cone'.  I also added Nutella, because who can resist Nutella ever?

Once the foundation is finished, you'll also get your choice of toppings from a tray of 4 (sprinkles, colorful cereal flakes, graham cracker crumbs, oreo cookie pieces), and the server will top the whole thing off with a bamboo skewer of strawberry and marshmallows.

The verdict?  It's always tough for modern versions of nostalgic foods to measure up to romanticized memory, but Somi Somi did a good job with the taiyaki - the dough is flavorful, but not too sweet, just the right balance of density 'chew' (possibly from mochi dough?) with lightly crispy exterior, and at the right size so that it's satisfying but not an overwhelming amount to work through - and it's easy to grab-and-go. 

The ice cream itself was smooth, light yet creamy and structured, so the texture was a thumbs up for me - but as for the flavor, I would have liked the green tea flavor to be more pronounced - though that's a matter of personal preference as I love green tea, with intensity.

I still liked the ice cream anyway, and all the components of the sundae worked well together - though if comparing to other green tea (and matcha in particular) ice creams around town it is not my favorite.  But I love that they do also offer the option to get the taiyaki without it (since taiyaki is really my first love from my childhood): Hot Fish Cone with Filling ($9 for 4 or 1 for $2.50). Somi Somi makes them in very small batches when customers come in, so that they pretty much always have fresh ones for you.

I've already been back twice in a week and will definitely be back again soon for both the sundae and the taiyaki on its own!

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5 bites  
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience -  4 stars
Service - 5 stars
Overall experience - 5 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100% 


Somi Somi
620 S Manhattan Pl #208-A, Los Angeles, CA 90005  (inside Madang Mall, 2nd Floor)            
Ph:  213.568.3284

Instagram: @somisomiicecream


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