Most of my friend’s teenage years are emblazoned with memories of family vacations, family reunions and getting their licenses. Mine are not. Mine are filled with waking up with the taste of St. Ides Special Brew in my mouth and walking three blocks to reach the gun-metal blue, dilapidated wood shack that was the Tom Sum house. The papaya salad house. I was reminded of those flavors at Hawker Fare.
There were several of these houses in the neighborhood I grew up in. Houses belonging to various Southeast Asian families that opened for business to the community, serving a melange of fruit juices in plastic sandwich bags tied with rubber bands and consumed through a straw, and rice with grilled meats served on plastic plates with generic Chinese prints. But, always dedicated to Tom Sum; green papaya salad. The flavors of Padaek, palm sugar and tamarind.
If you’ve never eaten these flavors, which my dining companion had not, it can send a culture shocked rush to your palette. The intensely seasoned and pungent combinations will attack your senses and make you shiver like a Victorian woman that’s just been pounced on. Both exciting and scary.This fresh salad of unripened and tart and crisp papaya, that masculine flavor of salty fish sauce, the relentless heat of delicate looking thai chilies, cherry tomato, pickled carrots and green beans, lime, and topped with peanuts. And it’s only $7.
Sweet Sour Salty Spicy.
The roasted Siamese peanuts with tiny fried shards of anchovies is just an upscale version of honey roasted peanuts. $3
I would eat pork every day of the week, if I could. It’s not surprising that I chose the 24 hour pork belly. A $9.50 rice bowl with a generous portion of Berkshire pork with a caramelized maillardy surface, fermented mustard greens or chard, and aromatic jasmine rice. Add an egg for an extra $1.50. It was delicious, but not far outside anyone’s comfort zone. And I realized that when I finally raised my head from my bowl and looked around me.
I was sitting in a restaurant where the expensive L-shaped floor to ceiling windows give you a view of sidewalk passerby’s contrast with plastic plates with a blue flower print, cambro cups play against linen napkins, and haute street food contrast with the common man. I was surrounded by a diverse ethnic customer base, sitting in between new neighborhood hipsters that have no recollection of what this town once was and a black man in his fifties that had seen the worst of what this town once was. The emerald green bottled of Mickey’s contrasted with mason jarred Thai tea. And it was all happening in Oakland. A name that still makes my mom shake her head in defiance when I mention it.
And while I don’t want Mission hipsters moving to Oakland, it’s inevitable. So, come on down and get you some of this Hawker Fare.
2300 Webster Street - Oakland, Ca 94612 [Uptown]
Featured image: Daniel L.