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What is Tempura?

Updated on July 31, 2012

Origins of Tempura

Japan is well known for its tempura. Tempura is a form of deep frying fish and vegetables in a batter coating. The surprising news is that Tempura did not originate it Japan. It was introduced in the 16th century, to Europe by Portuguese missionairies. The word tempura comes from the latin "ad tempora cuaresmae", which means “in the time of Lent”, when fish and vegetables would be eaten only because meat was not to be eaten during lent. The Japanese did not understand the meaning of this, as much as they thought the word tempora, was key to the food. It used to be a between meal snack. When it was introduced to Japan, master chefs there elevated the taste and texture of this food.

The earliest recorded information about tempura comes from the latter part of the 1500’s. Frying with fat was rare in Japan, until the Portuguese inspired this form of cooking. Tempura is a well known dish associated with Japanese cooking. It developed into its current form of cooking from the city of Edo. In th 1770’s tempura became popular as a snack food. It was sold on the streets of Japan while patrons ate it standing up and did not use chopsticks. The small pieces of prawns, fish, and vegetables were put on a bamboo skewer. The morsels of food were coated with batter and deep fried. It was eaten on the spot as an inexpensive food for the common people. Much like fast food today.


Tempura is a delicious food made famous by Japanese chefs
Tempura is a delicious food made famous by Japanese chefs | Source

Making Your Own Tempura

In the beginning of the 1800’s, tempura restaurants first started to make their appearance. By the middle of the century, tempura started to be appreciated by the upper class of Japan.

Tempura differs from the way the west fries food. To make a good tempura batter, use ice cold water, flour, and egg yolks. Cold water keeps the flour from being sticky. Dip the vegetables and fish in flour and then in the batter of egg, water, flour, in that order. Then deep fry for 2 to 3 minutes in small batches. The temperature of the oil should be 340 degrees for vegetables and 360 for fish. Some restaurants use sesame oil for cooking, but olive oil is an adequate subtitute.


  • assorted vegetables, ( like broccoli, cauliflowers, onions, carrots, shitake mushrooms, eggplant, sweet potato) firmer vegetables do better than softer vegetables. Softer soak up too much oil.
  • shrimp and prawns’
  • 1 cup ice cold water’
  • 1 large egg
  • ¾ cup flow
  • ⅛ tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • cooking oil

Directions for Cooking

  • In a medium bowl, mix the water and the egg.
  • In a second bowl,mix the flour and baking soda.
  • Mix the flour and baking soda with the egg.
  • Put the batter in the refrigerator while preparing the other ingredients.
  • clean and cut the vegetables into any size you desire
  • Important - do not overmix the batter. It is the cold mixture and hot batter that make the tempura fluffly.

  • Heat the oil in a frying pan. The oil should be hot enough that when you drip batter in it, the drops come to the top immediately.

  • Coat your ingredients in the batter. Place the coated ingredients in the hot oil, turning when the bottom side is browned

  • Place the fried ingredients on a paper towel to drain. Remove any skewers. Serve immediately.

  • Making tempura is a delicate process, but eating is easy.

Cooking Tempura in the Right Temperature Oil

Ordering Tempura in a Restaurant

Tempura can usually be ordered by the piece, or by the meal, or teishoku. The teishoku includes several varieties of tempura, plus rice, pickles, and soup. Various sizes of teishoku are available, differing in the number of tempura pieces. The most popular seafood items include prawns, shrimp, squid, scallops, and other kinds of fish. Many varieties of vegetable are listed in the recipe list above.

How to Eat Tempura

Tempura can be eaten with or without dipping sauce
Tempura can be eaten with or without dipping sauce | Source

Eating Tempura

The first rule of eating tempura is to get it while it's hot.

Often Tempura is eaten with dipping sauce. Dip the tempura quickly and try not to soak it in the sauce. Some people use only salt or lemon to season. The choice of how you dip your tempura is up to you.

The main thing, is to eat, enjoy and savor!


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    • Kai0224liu profile image

      kaikai 5 years ago from TX

      I love tempura.