Hello, this is TORA.
Lately, more and more foreigners have been paying attention to Japanese food culture.
And among the Japanese foods, ”tempura” is an especially popular item, almost rivaling the popularity of ramen.
It seems that famous tempura restaurants have been getting long lines with foreigners eager to try the exquisitely fried foods.
This time, I would like to talk about tempura.
The history of tempura
Even though it is one of the most characteristic Japanese food items now, ”tempura” was originally a Nanban (Portuguese) dish.
It first arrived around 450 years ago in Nagasaki during the Muromachi period, when the Portuguese brought in novelties like cannons.
And since oil was used to light lamps at the time, tempura, which involves frying foods in a pool of oil, was considered to be a rather extravagant dish.
However, as oil production increased during the Edo period, tempura became a popular food among commoners.
At first, it was sold as snacks (instead of side dishes) at street stalls. Restaurants that specialize in serving tempura dishes have started appearing in the Meiji period.
The etymology for tempura
There are various theories explaining the etymology for tempura.
One theory suggests that ”tempura” came from the Portuguese, “Tempora (or quattuor anni tempora, The Ember Days)”, when the foreigners would go into praying and fasting for three days in the beginning of each season.
Since Catholics were prohibited from eating meat during this time, believers would instead eat fish and other foods clothed in flour. The theory suggests that this food became the Japanese ”tempura”.
There is another theory that says the Buddhist monks who had traveled to China to train during the Kamakura period learned how to cook the dish as a vegetarian diet from the West. According to this theory, the name had come from the Spanish word for temple, ”templo”.
The types of tempura
- Shrimp tempura
It’s a classic.
- Also called ”Ebi-ten”, it is the most common variety of tempura that comes to any Japanese person’s mind when they hear the word, tempura.
Seasonal vegetables such as eggplants, pumpkins, and carrots are fried as tempura.
- Chicken tempura
Chicken tempura is called ”Tori-ten” or ”Kashiwa-ten”. It is often served with ponzu sauce or the restaurant’s own specialty sauce to bring out a unique flavor.
- Fish tempura
White fish is mostly used for tempura, while conger eel tempura is among the most popular. Actually, according to my research, people have also been using basa fish (type of catfish) lately.
- Fried oysters
Although it is not called tempura, it is still a kind of tempura. It is usually served with finely-sliced vegetables and other seafood.
- It is also commonly eaten on udon or soba.
- Mozuku tempura(Mozuku Seaweed)
It is a standard in Okinawa.
- It is added to donburi (a bowl of rice with food on top) or served on top of okinawa soba.
- Sea Lettuce tempura
This is also a standard in Okinawa.
- It fry in a thin round shape like rice crackers in Japan. It is like a sweets.
Differences by region
Tempura also has a Kanto style and a Kansai style.
Kanto style tempura mixes eggs in the batter, and uses sesame oil to fry the ingredient until golden brown.
Meanwhile Kansai style tempura does not mix eggs in the batter, and uses salad oil to fry tempura that comes out almost white.
Originally, because Kanto style fish tempura used fish caught in Tokyo Bay, sesame oil was used to reduce the fishy smell while cooking.
However, since vegetables were the main ingredients for tempura in Kansai region, salt (instead of tempura sauce) was used to season the fried vegetables, in order to preserve their original flavors.
Besides these, different parts of Japan greatly vary in how they cook and enjoy tempura.
In Okinawa, for example, people eat tempura as a snack or as a side dish for alcoholic drinks.
So what did you think about it?
Were you able to learn something new about tempura?
I hope that you will get a chance to taste and enjoy various types of tempura in the near future.
That’s all for today.