Tempura: The Journey from Snack to Meal

Written by on July 10th, 2017 // Filed under Blog

How a Foreign Dish Became Truly Japanese

The crunchy tempura is one of the best-loved dishes of many non-Japanese. Its slightly sweet and slightly tangy dipping sauce, the interplay of delicious batter outside and fresh seafood inside make it a must-order in a Japanese dine-out.

The usual tempura consist 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.

Many regard tempura as a Japanese dish, but lo, its origins are not so. With their ability to turn foreign foods into something that suits their taste, the Japanese actually borrowed tempura from the Portuguese. When Latin-speaking Portuguese missionaries came to Japan in the 1600s, they 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 18th century, Japanese chefs experimented with frying fish and vegetables whole, differing from the tradition of eating fresh food. Though fried, the foods preserved their unique taste and character. This is when the popular snack became a meal on its own and has become truly Japanese.

In modern times now, 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 remarkably made tempura their own, making it a traditional Japanese cuisine.

Loving Fried Foods in Federal Way

Love the tempura at K-Ton, your Japanese restaurant in Federal Way where we keep our grassroots tradition alive, even among our fried selections.