Tempura: 30 Days of Japanese Food

Everything you need to know about tempura: the history, ingredients and varieties of the Japanese dish.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Day 10: Tempura

If you’re worried that karaage (the greasy deep-fried Japanese dish) is a bit too unhealthy for you then, of course, there’s a healthier option. It comes in the form of tempura – an iconic type of Japanese food that has been eaten in the country for more than 600 years.

It is still essentially fried food but much lighter than the alternatives. Normally it’s just vegetables or seafood which is used.

Small pieces are dipped in the batter of water and wheat flour and then put into super hot vegetable oil for as short a time as possible (sometimes just a few seconds – sometimes a couple of minutes).

tempura, japanese food, japanese dishes, fried food

The most popular ingredients include prawns, squid, eggplant, sweet potato, pumpkin and mushrooms. A plate of tempura would normally tend to have more vegetables than seafood – but, of course, that’s up to personal taste.

You might notice the batter looks a bit lumpy and that’s intentional. The batter is made from cold water and is kept chilled right up until the time when the food is dipped into it.

Sometimes the chefs even put ice in to make it colder. They also only mix the batter a tiny bit – possibly only for a few seconds with chopsticks. This is to stop the wheat gluten activating, which would make it too much like dough.

tempura, japanese food, japanese dishes, fried food

Tempura can be eaten on its own as a meal or combined with other dishes. When on its own, it’s normally served with a dipping sauce called tentsuyu. It’s quite common to see it on top of warm soba noodle dishes or with a bowl of white rice.

The tempura I tried was at a small restaurant in the Nakano area of Tokyo. It was a big plate that, along with a couple of other dishes, I shared with some friends. It cost 1300 yen (US$13.10) and was delicious.

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