What is tempura?
Tempura (pronounced ‘TEM-purra’ with a rolling ‘r’ that almost sounds like an ‘l’) is a Japanese dish consisting of deep-fried pieces of fish or vegetables coated in a crunchy feather-light batter. Tempura is eaten as a snack with accompanying beer or other drinks,, and served with a dip and grated daikon radish or pickled ginger.
The idea behind tempura (ingredients dipped in batter, then fried) was introduced to Japan in the sixteenth century by the Portuguese. Although no one knows how the first tempura looked, it was perhaps something like pastries surrounded by dough. The modern version, as we know it, has become a popular Japanese dish. It is served in izakayas (informal dining and drinking rooms) as a snack but it can also be a topping on a bowl of sobano noodles (tempura soba), udon noodles (tempura udon) or rice (tendon).
The most common types of tempura are ebi (shrimp), fish, nasu (aubergine), kinoko (mushrooms) and kabocha (pumpkin).
Did you know...
Shrimp for tempura is often ‘stretched’ by the chef; hence shrimp tempura is sometimes as long and straight as an asparagus.
How to make tempura?
The tempura batter is made just before frying by mixing (wheat) flour, egg, baking powder, salt and ice water. The ice water ensures that the dough does not absorb too much frying oil, so the whole thing stays as light as a feather. The batter is very briefly mixed with chopsticks or a fork. Lumps don’t matter. The less you mix, the lighter the batter, so lumps are a good sign. (A clever trick for an extra crispy result is to use sparkling mineral water in the batter.)
Meanwhile, the selected ingredients are already pre-cut. The chef makes sure that they’re sized to cook fast and all at once. Taking into account the different cooking times, hard vegetables otherwise often take much longer to cook than a shrimp or a kale leaf. The selected ingredients are very lightly coated in the batter and fried in oil at 170 °C to 190 °C. Some ingredients, such as seafood, are ready within half a minute, while harder vegetables can take a little longer, about four minutes at the most.
How to eat
It is best to eat tempura as quickly as possible, with your hands or with chopsticks. The fresher (and hotter), the better. Tempura is eaten with tentsuyu, a light dip made from dashi, mirin (rice wine) and shoyu (soy sauce). Sometimes grated daikon or ginger is added to the sauce.
Add a bowl of rice to complete your meal.
In India they serve pakora, pieces of vegetables or fish fried in chickpea flour batter. Feel like something sweet? Pisang goreng, fried banana from Indonesia, is like a banana tempura.