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"Bowled" Flavors

by Kady Matsuzaki

Photography by Olivia Falcigno

I used to make fun of my dad for eating all of his meals out of bowls. It did not matter if we were eating scrambled eggs or steak—he would always put his food in a bowl. However, his comical preference is now trendy thanks to the popularization of bowl-based dishes. Promoted nationally by chains like Chipotle and sweetgreen, the once overlooked plate alternative is out in the spotlight.

Many Boston restaurants have picked up on the trend, making it easy for curious diners to try foods better suited for rimmed dishes.

The bowl concept is especially common among vegan/vegetarian restaurants. Wholeheart Provisions, a vegan restaurant in Allston, has an almost completely bowl-based menu. They use a “Buddha bowl” format: a base of grains or greens, topped with a protein option, several varieties of vegetables, condiments and a dressing. Try the “Cassie” topped with BBQ-miso tofu for a dish of plant-based bliss.

A solid vegan-friendly bowl can be found across the river in Cambridge as well. Beat Brasserie has an extensive selection of “earthly delight bowls” and Life Alive, has an entire menu section dedicated to the bowl. However, bowls do not have to scream vegan. New Fenway spot Saloniki Greek uses bowls as a vessel for its Mediterranean-style entrees. Think spicy lamb meatballs topped with tzatziki sauce on a bed of tomatoes, brown rice, and Greek fries. Tahaza Hummus Kitchen also puts a bowl-based spin on Greek cooking: diners can choose from a hummus, rice or salad bowl, all topped with proteins such as falafel or lamb with chickpeas.

Mei Mei by Design, the little sister of eatery Mei Mei Street Kitchen, serves bowls rooted in local produce and meat, resulting in bright and fresh flavors appropriate to its location in the Seaport Design and Innovation Building. Each menu option is named after a partner farm or vendor.

“It’s DIY: Bowls offer variety and interesting ingredients, plus they’re healthy and fast,” said Mei Mei co-owner, Margaret Li, in an interview with the Boston Globe.

Newbury newcomer Dig Inn is also focused on local, sustainable produce and meat, all served in rimmed ceramic. Called “market bowls”, they are similar in concept to a Buddha bowl. Each diner can customize their own bowl from a wide array of vegetable and protein-based “market sides”, which change daily according to produce availability. For example, I had rainbow chard and kale, topped with roasted sweet potato, tofu, zucchini and avocado during a recent visit.

However, not all bowl derivations are new inventions. Traditional Asian bowl-based dishes such as Japanese donburi (rice bowls) and Korean bibimbap (rice bowls topped with seasoned vegetables, sliced meat and spicy sesame paste) have been on menus for years. Café Mami in Porter Square offers various donburi, such as teriyaki chicken, salmon and fried tofu. Want to upgrade a traditional bowl of bibimbap? Try it in a hot stone pot at Koy so the rice at the bottom of the pot gets crispy.

Fish fans can get in on the movement by trying uber-trendy poke bowls. Two restaurants are set to open in Fall 2016—Pokeworks and Manoa Poke. For those unfamiliar with poke, it is a Hawaiian dish of rice, topped with raw fish seasoned with various sauces or spices, and sometimes vegetables and dried seaweed.

“Coming from Hawaii, I’m really excited to try the poke and acai bowls here in Boston”, said Jack Gregory (Questrom ’18).

Acai bowls, a fruity favorite in Hawaii and California, are smoothie bowls made with acai—a tropical purple super fruit. Jugos is a popular destination for those seeking acai and pitaya (dragon fruit) bowls. If the line out the door is any indication, the Copley Square shop knows how to take on the trend.

Bowls are versatile; they can be either sweet or savory, vegetarian or a carnivore’s dream. They are easy to customize to an individual’s preferences and can be as healthy as one chooses.

From the looks of it, my bowl-loving dad was definitely on to something.

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