Friday, July 19, 2024

Ramen from Tsurumen in Somerville’s Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The winter’s been pretty mild so far, but colder temps are certain. And when colder temps come, it’s ramen time.

We are spoiled to live in a world of noodle and broth; between Harvard and Davis squares alone you can count more than a dozen places where you can slurp ramen and the like. But most of those spots, such as the line-around-the-block Yume Wo Katare in Porter, serve pork-based bowls. Many also provide a veggie option. Few do chicken: Sapporo Ramen in The Porter Exchange (also known as The Shops at Porter in Lesley’s University Hall), the senior statesman of ramen in Cambridge; and Tsurumen in Davis Square.

I promise to extol the values of Sapporo in the near future, but for now we’re doing the no-frills ramen-and-just-ramen noodle shop on the backside of Davis Square. Chef Masuo Onishi opened in Osaka, Japan, in 2005; in 2015, after a trip here to visit friends, he decided to bring his silky-smooth spin on the traditional to Somerville, announcing he would serve steaming bowls for 1,000 days, then close and head home. A day counter hung in the eatery’s window, with Day Zero coming June 19, 2022 – when Onishi and his crew decided their task of serving quality ramen in Camberville needed to go on for another 1,000 days, which is why the website refers to “Tsurumen 1,000.” (The name Tsurumen is a portmanteau of “crane” and “noodles.” In Japanese folklore, a person’s sickness will be cured if they fold 1,000 paper cranes.) I digress, but what Tsurumen will do is cure your yen for rich ramen that’s quite different from most.

The menu’s tight: There are only five offerings in one of two broth concepts, chicken paitan or the soy-based classic shoyu. The former comes basic or spicy, the latter in truffle, chicken and pork broth versions. You can find shoyu-style ramen elsewhere, but the white-broth paitan not so much, and when you get a bowl of it, steaming and wonderfully opaque with tender lean slices of pork chashu and sip that first spoonful, your taste buds will register something new, rich and creamy with a pleasingly sweet flourish. The noodles are housemade, with a bit of a wheaty bite to them. You can customize your bowl with a soft-cooked egg and extra meat and noodles.

There’s not much else in the bowl, and that’s part of the charm: It’s clean, simple and flavorful. The operation is also super no-frills; it’s eat and get out, for serious eaters only – there’s no Wi-Fi, sake bar or reason to linger.

It’s a perfect stop before a flick or show at the Somerville Theatre and will make you come back for more – at least for the next T minus 1,000 days.

Tsurumen, 420 Highland Ave., Davis Square, Somerville


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.