It was the first week of my internship at Spies & Assassins, the ultra-secretive creative technology boutique group within kbs+p, and I was tasked on helping to create “Instagram-in-real-life,” a photo-booth with physical filters that users would be able to manually toggle between. I’d never worked on any kind of hardware project before in my life, and I had no idea how to even begin.
Enter the Arduino UNO.
Upon witnessing my confusion, my colleague, a physical computing expert, introduced me to this magical device that makes it possible for people to easily hack on hardware projects. Arduino makes simple single-board microcontrollers that allow users to program simple circuits and manipulate physical objects with code. In my particular case, the UNO enabled me to run code that would turn a wheel of physical filters when a user turned a rotary encoder (a type of input device that users can turn). It certainly felt like magic the first time the filter wheel shifted over after I twisted the dial on the rotary encoder.
I love the idea of the Arduino and its mission to make the process of hacking on hardware delightful and simple. Its microcontrollers empower people to incorporate the analog with the digital, and to expand the realm of possible projects beyond the virtual world into physical reality. The possibilities of microcontrollers combined with software are endless: you could create something as useful as a sensor to do high-speed photography or as whimsical as a harp made out of lasers.
I anticipate Arduino microcontrollers becoming especially more relevant in the future, with the trends of physical computing (and on a related note, wearable computing) becoming more prevalent. It’s clear there’s a market for these types of devices, with the Raspberry Pi (a single-board computer) also emerging as a competitor. Various technology companies, including Google (Google Glass), Samsung (Galaxy Gear), and Jawbone (Jawbone Up), are also investing in the wearable computing space, creating products that integrate software with hardware components. Given what the first entrants into this space look like, I must say I’m rather excited to see the next generation of technology products that will harness the collective capabilities of hardware and software.
I initially heard about Hawker Fare and its famous Michelin-starred owner from San Francisco magazine (my favorite local publication by far). Its specialty? Rice bowls, done with Asian fusion flair. This theme reminds me of this trend right now in restaurants, where the menu consists of riffs of the same type of food. When my aunt pinged me to grab siu ye (our late night), we decided to come here.
On the drive over from Berkeley down Telegraph Avenue, my aunt recounted the early days of her career when she used to work near downtown Oakland; she pointed out the building she first worked in when she worked at Pac Bell and the gym she used to frequent. She also mentioned how this area, this tiny corner near Lake Merritt and the tip of downtown Oakland, has changed so much over the years, from run-down buildings to new office buildings, swanky restaurants, and a place that hosts events like the monthly Art Murmur in Oakland. Hawker Fare, in my opinion, is definitely one of the places that’s helping to create this atmosphere of downtown hipness.
The vibe of Hawker Fare epitomizes youthful cool, with its graffiti-ed decal on the wall with a quote about street food and sparse lighting. The clientele definitely matches, the restaurant bustling up the entire time with couples on dates, groups of friends in their twenties and thirties having a good time on a Friday night, nonstop chatter in the air.
As for the food, it was flavorful, but fell short of being absolutely delicious. We ordered the Satay Beef Short Rib, Gai Yang, and 24 Hour Pork Belly rice bowls, with Coconut Rice Pudding to finish. The rice bowls were good, with components that melded well together, but I would hesitate to describe them as delicious.
The short rib was of the Korean BBQ variety, and tasted like scrumptiousness. It was paired with Chinese greens, as well as with lovely pickled slices of cucumber that added the slightest touch of acidity and sweetness. The best part about this dish though, was the most amazing peanut sauce that accompanied it: it was both rich and smooth, but at the same time not overpowering and overwhelming. I tried to smother my rice with as much of this sauce as I could; I seriously could not stop eating it. This rice bowl was probably my favorite of the bunch, of only for the delicate balance between the sweetness, acidity, and welcome crunch of the vegetables, the grilled flavor of the short ribs, and the savory peanut sauce.
The 24 hour pork belly was unbelievably rich and immensely flavorful; then again, when is it not? When you have so many intertwined layers of fat and meat, it’s difficult for it not be delicious. It came with a tangle of picked mustard greens, which reminded me of something my mother would make to eat with rice porridge. My aunt preferred this bowl the best; I’m assuming it’s from the meltingly soft pork belly.
The Gai Yang bowl was probably the most banal; you can get much better rice plates at actual Vietnamese restaurants. The sauce that accompanied (which I’m guessing is supposed to be nuoc cham, or at least inspired by it) was ridiculously spicy, so much so that I couldn’t taste the sauce at all apart from the burn on my tongue. The grilled chicken was alright, but I’ve definitely had better in the past. The vegetables that came with was an uninspiring pile of chopped up lettuce. I wouldn’t recommend this bowl; while it’s not terribly bad, it’s not terribly interesting etiher.
For dessert, we decided on coconut rice pudding on a whim. The presentation, I must say, is utterly lacking and unimpressive. It comes packed in a tiny Mason jar that the waiter simply slides onto your table; I think this is the first time I’ve ever been so underwhelmed by the tininess of a dish. The flavor of the dessert was quite nice and light after eating all these heavier, savory rice bowls. The dessert consisted of three layers: a crumbly sesame topping with a tiny mint leaf as garnish, a smear of macerated banana jam, and the creamy white rice pudding. Apart from the size of the jar, the presentation of the dessert was quite cute.
I probably wouldn’t come back here again, even though I didn’t find the food all that offensive, just because I think the flavors (while nicely paired together) and rice bowls aren’t impossible to replicate at home. For almost $10 a rice bowl, it pains to open my wallet for a medium sized bowl of decent vegetables, meat, and rice. Hawker Fare reminds me a lot of the kinds of restaurants that Tyler Cowen describes in his article/book about the economics of eating out: one of those places where it’s more about the act of being there and being seen than the actual food itself.
Just realized in the midst of packing (it seems for the umpteenth time, I am so tired of packing) that my clothes-wearing tendencies can be modeled with binary exponential back-off. The more I don’t wear a certain item of clothing, the more I will continue to not wear that piece of clothing in the future. It’s like channel capture, except with my body as the channel and a select ten pieces of clothing as the dominant flow. Multiple access really is relevant in real life!