Born in Portugal, introduced to Japan, and carrying a name derived from the Latin word for “Lent,” tempura is an ancient fried food that took Japan by storm after Portuguese missionaries arrived with it by boat on their shores over 500 years ago.
Although frying food is standard practice in modern day Japan, it was virtually an unknown skillset to the Japanese until it was introduced to them by the Portuguese when they arrived in the port city of Nagasaki in the 16th century.
Tempura initially started out as a dish for the wealthy due to the high cost of oil used to make it, but it gradually grew in popularity as its cooking costs went down. Eventually, tempura became a dish favorite in other Japanese cities as it became a standard item sold from food stalls.
What Is Tempura?
Originally intended to serve as a meal of fried minced vegetables and fish during the observance of Lent (which forbids eating meat), tempura thrives as an excellent Udon topping that is also great to eat by itself for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as an in-between meal.
Today, tempura comes in many forms ranging from seafood and meat to vegetables, flowers, fruits, and even desserts like tempura ice cream and gummy tempura candies. There are also ‘tempura-ya’ restaurants that specialize in tempura, which reflects its growing popularity.
What Is Japanese Tempura Batter Made Of?
The base ingredients for tempura batter consist of the following:
- Cold water
- Oil (vegetable, canola or sesame oil works great)
Beyond these essential ingredients, you can modify the recipe as desired with spices, seasonings, or other items that can help enhance the flavor.
Is Tempura Vegan and/or Vegetarian-Friendly?
Although tempura is famous for use with lean meats and seafood, both the tempura batter and food item that is coated could as easily be vegan-friendly.
The batter can be made either with eggs which provides a fluffier coating or without eggs which gives tempura a crispier texture. With that being said, tempura can be suited to meet the needs of discerning eaters due to how its core ingredients could be switched out to serve vegetarian and vegan lifestyles or preferences.
How Tempura Batter Is Made
The steps to create tempura batter is relatively simple.
- Flour, salt, eggs, and cold water are mixed in together.
- Select meats or vegetable items are cleaned and dipped in flour.
- Drops of batter are poured into hot oil and turn into crispy tempura flakes.
- The coated pieces are slowly lowered into the hot oil.
After 1-2 minutes, the items are ready to come out of the hot oil. While times for how long to fry each piece can vary by restaurant, the result is ideally light and crispy tempura that has a slight crunch and tender taste.
At Café Sanuki, we are proud to offer tempura in 8 different forms:
- Fish Cake
- Sweet Potato
- Organic Japanese Egg
- Kakiage (mixed veggie and seafood)
Tempura is an excellent topping for Udon partly because of how the crispy tempura batter blends in with the flavor of the soup broth and could even help absorb it with its light, airy body.
Better yet, another way you could enjoy tempura with Udon is to cut each piece in half, dip each piece into the soup broth to let it soak for a bit while you enjoy the Udon noodles. Once the tempura halves have sat in the food for a minute or so, then you could pull out each piece and appreciate an item that has quite literally been soaked in some authentic Udon goodness you will not forget!
With so many different tempura types to choose from, it would only make sense to try each one at least once with every bowl of authentic Udon here at Café Sanuki.