For a foodie, I dare say nothing beats dining with other foodies. Foodies want to try new places but have a fair assessment of the food, regardless of “the trend”. The food can be scraps and you’d still have a good time dissecting how that kind of scraps made its way into a diner. But more importantly, you’re not the only one taking pictures of food, your companions also remember what you got and write about it too. In his calm, knowledgeable, matter-of-fact way, Bob Fukushima beat me to writing about Hawker Fare today, which drives me to push this post ahead of the other thirty backlogged.
First, the credit must go to Robert Bergstrom for recommending this lunch spot in Oakland. He and Bob are barbecue buddies. How I got to know Rob is another post. We sat and chilled over rice bowls, among other things, for more than 2 hours; I could almost feel the sneer from the line of customers waiting to get seated. Hawker Fare opened in late May, why they have such busy lunch time is probably because of their off-the-norm, concise menu and accessible location (the corner of Webster and 23rd, paid parking lot right across the street).
We started off the Asian-street-get-together way: peanuts with beer. No plastic blue stools and middle-aged lady fanning over a coal grill, though. I think I heard they said that the (Singha?) beer Hitachino Red Rice Ale was good, but I haven’t had beer since I was three, so I can’t comment. The Siamese Peanuts, though, is an interesting affair. Covered in a sweet, salty, and sticky mix of semi-spicy shrimp paste and chopped green onion, the nuts kicked in strong and went down dry. A drop of lemon juice gave them a soda feel on the tongue, which faded quickly, leaving you thinking “hmm, that was kinda weird?”.
Rob was also happy with his Lemongrass Chicken, which was coupled with a strong tangy fish sauce mix. How could I tell? Well, one of the waitresses attempted to take away his unfinished bowl while he was talking, and he held it back.
As for me, I knew what I wanted as soon as Rob suggested this place: the 24hr Pork Belly, “tom khem” style accompanied by pickled baby bokchoy, onion, and daikon. The three thick, mildly flavored chunks, though had a lot of fat, were neither fatty nor chewy. Their soft yet dense texture makes you want more than three. For a deeper taste, there’s the preserved vegetable mustard that looks almost like a normal brown peanut sauce, but I would prefer more sweetness instead. Guess I was expecting it to be similiar to the Vietnamese braised pork belly, and it wasn’t.
To wrap it up, we spooned into an “Affogato”-styled condense milk soft serve with Thai coffee and a salted caramel Sundae with red beans and puffed rice for crunch. If you like the quick melting, relatively warm feel of soft serves, Bob says this is the place to go. I think I like ice cream better.
Similarly, if you have an hour for lunch, you’re in downtown Oakland, and you want a somewhat refreshing touch on Southeast Asian cooking in a clean, decorated, English-speaking, Caucasian environment, this is the place to go. For $9, the rice bowls were a little scarce on the rice but efficient on the meat. They wouldn’t blow your mind, but they would make you satisfied, as long as you don’t expect them to blow your mind. And like Bob said, who you eat the meal with already decides half the success of the meal.
Head to Bob’s Brew and ‘Que for some mouth-watering pork and steaks. This guy freaking makes his own bullets, you bet he’s serious about meats.
Address: Hawker Fare
2300 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94612