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Stellar Tofu at Meiji, Gardena

Fresh zaru tofu with candied ginger and syrup
Fresh zaru tofu with candied ginger and syrup
Ben Calderwood

Kumidashi supreme tofu, produced fresh on-site every morning save Tuesday at Meiji Tofu's barely-there Gardena storefront, is rapturous, and comes closer to capturing the sacred alchemy of milk and rennet (i.e. cheese) than any ersatz conurbation of vegan-friendly binders and flavorings I have ever encountered. It will immediately bias you against supermarket bean curd, and is fabulous the day it's made.

Left to rest in the fridge for a few days, supreme tofu's quality actually improves. The soy continues to brew, proteins align and gel and after 72 hours the kumidashi acquires the consistency of a dense flan, genuinely expressing the cooling, mellow sweetness of dairy as well as the pale vegetal flavors of the bean from which it was made. The alkaline tang of the nigari (natural mineral coagulant) recedes and the mild graininess present the day of purchase buffs out, leaving behind a silky, molecular crumb.

Supreme tofu is not meant to be further processed--it's far too soft to cook with and nearly collapses under its own weight when slipped from its container. This is just as well. Kumidashi is eating-out-of-hand tofu, occasion tofu, dessert tofu best enjoyed with nothing more than a dusting of citrus zest, brown sugar and a spoon. Or candied ginger. Or a drizzle of blood orange reduction. Hibiscus froth. Such Providence-class aspirations are not beyond the pale for a product so effortless and self-possessed, but even the sweetness of pantry maple syrup will help the creaminess of Meiji's non-GMO beans to blossom. You could obscure the label and convince the most entrenched tofuphobe he's spooning up panna cotta.

Meiji's zaru tofu marks a further progression of soybean chemistry simply by inverting the kumidashi into a woven basket to drain. As water seeps out of the emulsion it takes some milkiness with it, but leaves behind a pronounced, rusticated nutty note that directly evokes the source plant. Zaru tofu is weighty and thick, yielding to the spoon not in rounded scoops but irregular chunks, like rock strata cleaving from a hillside, impersonating with perfect fluency the texture of a young Crottin goat cheese.

The tiny shop also produces fresh soymilk, block tofu, ivory-green edamame tofu and dunes of okara (the pressed remnants of the bean left behind after the soymilk is removed). Arrive early. Meiji tofu sells out, and the doors are shuttered by 1 p.m.

Meiji Tofu: 16440 S. Western Avenue, Gardena; (310) 538-0403.

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