Sunday, July 21, 2024

Sesame tahini cold ramen at Ramen O’ Bowl in Cambridge. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Given the heat wave here last week, the idea of a bowl of ramen might sound a bit counterintuitive, but what if your noodles were cold? That’s what you can grab at Ramen O’ Bowl, the quaint little cafe that set up in the old BerryLine storefront on Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard and Porter squares. The new eatery offers hot and cold ramen, sushi rice bowls, salads, smoothies and more, and it’s all vegan – which is why the notion of a sushi rice bowl has a bit of a nod and a wink to it: The “sushi” is soy protein, seasoned or spicy seitan and inari (tofu curd). All the bowls come with black grain rice, avocado, mango salsa and seaweed salad and their twists (spicy, smoked, etc.).

But onto the ramen. Because of the summer heat, I have yet to sample the vegan spins on traditional hot ramens (miso, shoyu, spice and shacha). The cold ramen section of the menu was the only place my eyes would go and darn, was I the happy one. The sesame tahini cold ramen with some of that soy protein comes with roasted peanuts, carrots, cucumber, super ripe cherry tomato halves, green onions, bean sprouts, sesame seeds and, yum, sesame tahini sauce. The thick, pliable and succulent ramen noodles are homemade. The whole combination’s surprisingly satisfying in the same way as Thai sesame noodles, but this is something else, something different, something slurpless – there’s no broth per se – and it’s both satiating and healthy, which is a hard point to pirouette on. To me, this is what cold noodles should be. There are two more variations, spicy and a Han that uses Korean sweet chili gochujang sauce. Both are good; but cold, the tahini just works as a seamless symphony of temperature, texture and taste. 

A smoothie at Ramen O’ Bowl. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The smoothies are a nice add-on in these warmer times. They’re thick, but not heavy – remember, vegan means no dairy. I’m a berry guy, so my grabs have been the Strawberry Twist (strawberry, peach, mango, orange juice and oat milk) and the Berry Melody (strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, banana and oat milk). You can also get an avocado smoothie among the many inventive and delicious offerings, and for dessert there’s a vegan tiramisu and cheesecake with blueberry compote. Come warmer times, I’m up for trying Ramen O’s hot vegan slurps.

Ramen O’ Bowl, 1668 Massachusetts Ave., Neighborhood 9 between Harvard and Porter squares

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.