January's Can't-Miss Dish

The Best Ramen in Somerville - TSURUMEN
By Ellen Bhang · 01/03/2022

Looking for a no-fail, mouthwatering, gonna-tell-your-friends-about-it plate? Each month, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Bhang highlights the dish you need to try right now.  

The Best Ramen in Somerville

 

On the plate: Formula 2022 Shio Ramen 

Where to find it: When chef Masuo Onishi opened his ramen restaurant, Tsurumen, in the spring of 2018, fans of the popular dish were all abuzz about his business plan. The Davis Square noodle shop would operate for 1,000 days, he declared, then close. It was about challenging himself as a chef: Human beings, he would often say, struggle giving their all to something that has no end. A deadline allows the mind to focus, providing motivation to make the most of the here-and-now.

Ramen lovers were intrigued, and regularly queued down the block for a chance to slurp noodles in the compact, bare-bones space. But as the days ticked by, tracked by a tally posted on a sign near the cash register, fans wondered: Would Onishi stick to his end-date? And if so, how many more delicious bowls could they consume before Tsurumen closed?

So you can imagine the relief this past summer among devotees when the chef announced the ramen shop would continue in the same location beyond 1,000 days. Now, Onishi has new goals that center on crafting some of the best ramen in town.

Notes on the nosh: Tsurumen’s newest noodle bowl is called Formula 2022. It’s the latest in a series of specials that commemorate chapters in Onishi’s life. Formula 1985—noodles and broth with pork and scallions—hearkened back to the straightforward style of ramen that Onishi ate as a teenager. Formula 2005, fancier and topped with littleneck clams, reflected his evolution as a chef. “I think taste is basically the same when all human beings are born,” he muses, speaking through a translator. “However, I think the senses—and [the flavors] that human beings find delicious—will change depending on their experience.”

Like previous versions, Onishi’s latest special serves as a snapshot in time. Think of it as the sum total of his life experiences—or simply the combination of delicious ingredients he craves right now.

Formula 2022 arrives at the table piping hot, adorned with delectably fatty slices of chashu pork, each crisped with a blow torch, plus bamboo shoots, minced red onion, red pepper flakes, and a tumble of bright green scallions. The soup—seasoned primarily with shio (salt)—is a duo of chicken broth and dashi, a stock made by simmering kombu seaweed in water, then adding shaved dried fish to steep. There’s no soy sauce or miso to cloud the broth, so it’s easy to gaze upon the thin, springy noodles that Onishi insists on making in-house. “Even in Japan, more than half of the ramen shops do not make their own noodles,” he says. The process is labor-intensive, even when aided by machine. These days, the sleek contraption in Tsurumen’s kitchen turns out more than a hundred individual servings of noodles on weekdays, and well over 200 on weekends.

Onishi is thrilled to have started the New Year with an array of new goals, many of which he has yet to reveal. It’s not clear what Tsurumen’s new endpoint will be, but the tally near the cash register continues. When we visited, it was day 839.

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