Japanese Tempura: From Fresh to Fried

How a Snack Food Became a Meal

Most westerners love their crunchy tempura. Fresh shrimp or any seafood for that matter, and its slightly sweet and slightly tangy dipping sauce is a delicious mix of batter outside and juiciness inside make it a must-order in a Japanese dine-out.

What’s inside tempura? Usually, it consists of seafood, either shrimp or white fish deep fried in batter. There’s also vegetables, like onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, Japanese pumpkin, carrots and green peppers. You can also have kaki-age, a mix of seafood and veggies. However, it is tempura’s batter that makes it distinct from other Japanese fried foods. It doesn’t use bread crumbs and uses less grease. Batter is basically beaten egg, flour and cold water, and sometimes oil, starch or spices may be added.

The Japanese actually borrowed tempura from the Portuguese. Thanks to their ability to turn foreign foods into something that suits their taste. Latin-speaking Portuguese missionaries came to Japan in the 1600s, and introduced this method of frying food, quite unknown to the Japanese at the time. It was basically meant for Lent when eating meat was disallowed observance. The dish was referred to as tempora cuaresme, meaning ‘in the time of Lent.’ It was introduced at the port of Nagasaki when it were only the Dutch, Chinese, and the Portuguese who were allowed to trade with then closed-off Japan. It became a quickly loved snack food, served between meals.

By the turn of the 18th century, differing from eating raw, fresh food, the Japanese chefs experimented with frying whole fish and vegetables. The foods still preserved their unique taste and character. What was then a snack became a meal, and it was truly Japanese. Today, tempura is served on a rice bowl called tendon or on top of soba noodles. It is also ordered as a side dish with dipping sauce. Sometimes, other foods are batter-fried tempura style – like sushi rolls, fruit or noodles. The Japanese have made tempura their own, making it a traditional Japanese cuisine.

Enjoying Tempura in Seattle

Love our tempura at I Love Sushi, your Japanese restaurant in Seattle. We have a wide variety of tempura-styled selections you will love. Our fried foods are as tasty as our fresh delights.