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Tofu, just for you

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Dishing out freshly-made tofu.

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As much as I enjoy eating meat, I’m not one of those tofu-averse meat lovers. (After nine years of being vegetarian, I somehow learned to maintain an appreciation for the food, even after I went back to my carnivorous ways.) And I’d been hearing about a little sushi joint in the neighborhood that made its own tofu. This seemed like the ultimate in handmade food; sushi is available pretty much everywhere these days, and a lot of it is made carelessly. If a restaurant is going to the trouble of making their own tofu, they must be pretty serious about it. So the other night I convinced my friend Sayzie that it was time to seek it out.

There were actually three types of homemade tofu on the menu at Eiji; we went for the oboro, which is made to order and served hot (the other two are pre-made and served chilled). Because we were sitting at the bar, we also had front-row seats to watch the tofu being made. Our server filled an earthenware pot with soy milk and set it over a portable butane burner, stirring the liquid every few minutes. When the soy milk was hot, she added a small beakerful of clear liquid, and started to stir a little more frequently. Right before our eyes, the soy milk thickened and congealed into a thick porridge. Like magic! Then the lid went on, and after a few more minutes of cooking, our tofu was ready.

As our server ladled out portions of the tofu into small bowls, she helpfully explained the protocol to us novices: first, taste the tofu unadorned. Then add accoutrements, if you like. Cupping the bowls in our hands, we tucked in. The tofu was lusciously custardy, and so delicate that it seemed like it might collapse under its own weight. And, much to my surprise, it had flavor; it actually tasted like the soy milk it was made from.

Without even breaking her gaze from the tofu, Sayzie murmured, “this would be perfect for breakfast,” and I totally agreed. Warm, soft, comforting, and savory – it offered everything I like first thing in the morning.

We began to experiment with the various condiments and garnishes – two types of soy sauce, plus a little porcelain palette containing shredded shiso leaves and scallions, grated daikon and ginger, sesame seeds, and shaved bonito. And though they added color and interest, I found myself going back to eating the tofu straight.

And the sushi? It was good. But as a cool and misty “summer” approaches, it’s that warming and restorative tofu that will bring me back to Eiji.

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