Eat This: Oni Reaper at Oni Ramen
I’ve been traveling a lot recently and while it’s been a host of adventures I’d gladly do again, after all of the site-seeing (read: walking), sketchy Airbnbs and anxiety-ridden attempts to communicate in a foreign langue, there did come a point where I began to ruminate on things that I had perhaps taken for granted. Two things, specifically: My bed and comfort food.
I’ll spare you the details about the former, but since this is a column about food, I’ll deal with the latter for a minute. I think that when we think of comfort food, there ends up being two types: the specific and the general.
To think of specific comfort food is to imagine how you feel when you’re eating a particular dish. For instance, specific comfort food might be the fried shrimp dinner with fries and coleslaw at S&D Oyster Company or my dad’s spaghetti bolognese with garlic bread. The food, obviously, is important, but it’s also the marriage of the dish with the location, the people, the memories that make it, um, comforting.
Then, there is the general. For most Texans, this list would be headlined by queso or barbecue. Those are great, sure, but I have specific versions of those that I seek out. Generally, as it were, I seek out noodles in spicy broth when I need comfort. Whether in Dublin or Denver or Deep Ellum, with pho, ramen, udon or something else, I really only require those three things: Noodles, a deep, simmering broth and hot, hot heat.
There are many places around town where I turn to get my fix, but if I’m near Deep Ellum, it’s time for the Oni Reaper. Since opening on Elm last year, Oni Ramen has continued to churn out the bowls of meaty broth loaded with pork belly and ramen that made its original location in Fort Worth a must-eat.
The Oni Reaper is full of warning signs: it’s called the Reaper; the broth is “demon-spiced miso”; and even more of that Demon spice (a.k.a. Scorpion and Carolina Reaper peppers) comes either added or on the side. Does this bowl of lava blow out your sinuses about three spoonfuls in? Reader, you know it does.
But while you’re abusing your napkins, the Oni Reaper shows its true self. You see, this bowl brings the heat, but it is also packed with pork belly, bamboo shoots, parmesan-buttered corn kernels, bean sprouts, leeks, green onion and an egg.
And unlike so many “super spicy” dishes where the heat overwhelms anything, perhaps even covering up for deficiencies, the Oni Reaper’s intense heat enhances the umami flavors in the pork belly and egg, but the real prize to get some of the parmesan-buttered corn in a deep spoon of broth. Here, the sweetness of the corn cools the demon in between slurps of ramen and bamboo shoots and you can really appreciate the depth of this hellish bowl.
There’s a point of painful bliss about halfway through the Oni Reaper where you feel your internal temperature rising and your head begins to throb. It makes me sit up and let out a deep exhale. It’s a moment where you are consciously present which is an underrated quality of a good dish and, to me, comforting. Then you double down and steel yourself to dive back into the hellish depths of the Oni Reaper.