Tempura (天ぷら or 天麩羅, tenpura, [tempɯɾa]) is a typical Japanese dish usually consisting of seafood, meat and vegetables that have been battered and deep fried. The dish was introduced by the Portuguese in Nagasaki through the fritter-cooking techniques in the 16th century. The name "tempura" may originate from the Spanish Témporas, which refer to the Ember Days, during which no meat is consumed, or from the Portuguese word tempêro, meaning “seasoning”.
A light batter is made of iced water, eggs, and soft wheat flour (cake, pastry or all-purpose flour). Sometimes baking soda or baking powder is added to make the fritter light. Using sparkling water in the place of plain water makes a similar effect. Tempura batter is traditionally mixed in small batches using chopsticks for only a few seconds, leaving lumps in the mixture that, along with the cold batter temperature, result in the unique fluffy and crisp tempura structure when cooked. The batter is often kept cold by adding ice, or by placing the bowl inside a larger bowl with ice in it. Overmixing the batter will result in activation of wheat gluten, which causes the flour mixture to become soft and dough-like when fried.
Specially formulated tempura flour is available in supermarkets. This is generally light (low-gluten) flour, and occasionally contains leaveners such as baking powder.
Tempura does not use breadcrumbs (panko) in the coating. Deep-fried foods which are coated with breadcrumbs are called furai, Japanese-invented Western-style deep fried foods, such as tonkatsu or ebi furai (fried prawn).
Thin slices or strips of vegetables or seafood are dipped in the batter, then briefly deep-fried in hot oil. Vegetable oil or canola oil are most common; however, tempura was traditionally cooked using sesame oil. Many specialty shops still use sesame oil or tea seed oil, and it is thought certain compounds in these oils help to produce light, crispier batter.
The bits of batter (known as tenkasu) are scooped out between batches of tempura, so they do not burn and leave a bad flavor in the oil. A small mesh scoop (Ami jakushi) is used for this purpose. Tenkasu are often reserved as ingredients in other dishes or as a topping.
Various seafood and vegetables are commonly used as the ingredients in traditional tempura.
The most popular seafood tempura is probably ebi (shrimp) tempura. Types of seafood used in tempura includes:
- prawn – Ebi tempura
- ayu (sweetfish)
- anago (conger eel)
- white fish
- Huss (Various fish species including Galeorhinus, Mustelus, Scyliorhinus, Galeus melastomus, Squalus acanthias – also known as Spiny dogfish or "Rock salmon")
- rock salmon (a term covering several species of dogfish and similar fish)
- Japanese whiting – kisu
- Sea bass
- Sea perch
Vegetables tempura is called yasai tempura. The all vegetable tempura might be served as a vegetarian dish. Types of vegetables includes:
- bamboo shoots
- bell pepper
- butternut squash
- gobo (burdock, Arctium lappa)
- green beans
- kabocha squash
- renkon (lotus root)
- shishito pepper
- shiso leaf
- sweet potato
Serving and presentation
Cooked pieces of tempura are either eaten with dipping sauce, salted without sauce, or used to assemble other dishes. Tempura is commonly served with grated daikon and eaten hot immediately after frying. In Japan, it is often found in bowls of soba or udon soup often in the form of a shrimp, shiso leaf, or fritter. The most common sauce is tentsuyu sauce (roughly three parts dashi, one part mirin, and one part shōyu). Alternatively, skim tempura may be sprinkled with sea salt before eating. Mixtures of powdered green tea and salt or yuzu and salt are also used. Kakiage is a type of tempura made with mixed vegetable strips, such as onion, carrot, and burdock, and sometimes including shrimp or squid, which are deep fried as small round fritters.
Tempura is also used in combination with other foods. When served over soba (buckwheat noodles), it is called tempura soba or tensoba. Tempura is also served as a donburi dish where tempura shrimp and vegetables are served over steamed rice in a bowl (tendon) and on top of udon soup (tempura udon).
Earlier Japanese deep-fried food was either simply fried without breading or batter, or fried with rice flour. However, toward the end of the 16th century, fritter-cooking with a batter of flour and eggs was acquired in Nagasaki from Iberian missionaries. It was a way to fulfill the fasting and abstinence rules for Catholics surrounding the quarterly ember days (Spanish: Témporas).. Portuguese and Spanish, both Neo-Latin languages, inherited Témpora from the Latin Tempora. Hence the etymology of the word. In those days, tempura was deep-fried in lard with a batter of flour, water, eggs, and salt; unlike today, it was eaten without dipping sauce.
In the early 17th century, around the Tokyo Bay area, tempura ingredients and preparation underwent a remarkable change as the Yatai (food cart) culture gained popularity. Making the best use of fresh seafood while preserving its delicate taste, tempura used only flour, eggs and water as ingredients and the batter was not flavored. As the batter was mixed minimally in cold water, it avoided the dough-like stickiness caused by the activation of wheat gluten, resulting in the crispy texture which is now characteristic of tempura. It became customary to dip tempura quickly in a sauce mixed with grated daikon just before eating it.
Today in Japan the mainstream of tempura recipes originate from "Tokyo style (Edo style)" tempura, which was invented at the food stalls along the riverside fish market in the Edo period. The main reason tempura became popular was the abundance of seafood. In addition, as oil extraction techniques advanced, cooking oil became cheaper. Serving of deep-fried food indoors was prohibited during Edo because tempura oil was a fire hazard in Japanese building, which were made of paper and wood. For that reason, tempura gained popularity as fast food eaten at outdoor food stalls. It was skewered and eaten with a dipping sauce. Tempura is considered one of "the Edo Delicacies" along with soba (buckwheat noodles) and sushi which were also food-stall take-outs.
The modern tempura recipe was first published in 1671 in the cook book called "料理献立抄". After the Meiji period, tempura was no longer considered a fast food item but instead developed as a high-class cuisine.
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The word "tempura", or the technique of dipping fish and vegetables into a batter and frying them, comes from the word "tempora", a Latin word meaning "times", "time period" used by both Spanish and Portuguese missionaries to refer to the Lenten period or Ember Days (ad tempora quadragesima), Fridays, and other Christian holy days. Ember Days, or quatuor anni tempora in Latin, refer to holy days when Catholics avoid red meat and instead eat fish or vegetables. The idea that the word "tempura" may have been derived from the Portuguese noun tempero, meaning a condiment or seasoning of any kind, or from the verb temperar, meaning "to season" is also possible as the Japanese language could easily have assumed the word "tempero" as is, without changing any vowels as the Portuguese pronunciation in this case is similar to the Japanese. There is still today a dish in Portugal very similar to tempura called peixinhos da horta, "garden fishes", which consists of green beans dipped in a batter and fried.
The term "tempura" is thought to have gained popularity in southern Japan; it became widely used to refer to any sort of food prepared using hot oil, including some already existing Japanese foods. Today, and particularly in western Japan, the word "tempura" is also commonly used to refer to satsuma-age, fried surimi fish cake which is made without batter.
In Japan, restaurants specializing in tempura are called tenpura-ya. Many restaurants offer tempura as part of a set meal or a bento (lunch box), and it is also a popular ingredient in take-out or convenience store bento boxes. The ingredients and styles of cooking and serving tempura vary greatly through the country, with importance being placed on using fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Outside Japan (as well as recently in Japan), there are many nontraditional and fusion uses of tempura. Chefs over the world include tempura dishes on their menus, and a wide variety of different batters and ingredients are used, including the nontraditional broccoli, zucchini, asparagus and chuchu. More unusual ingredients may include nori slices, dry fruit such as banana, and ice cream (tempura-based fried ice cream). American restaurants are known to serve tempura in the form of various meats, particularly chicken, and cheeses, usually mozzarella. A variation is to use panko (breadcrumbs), which results in a crisper consistency than tempura batter, although in Japan this would be classified as a furai dish. Tempura (particularly shrimp) is often used as a filling in makizushi. A more recent variation of tempura sushi has entire pieces of sushi being dipped in batter and tempura-fried.
In Taiwan, tempura as described in the preceding is known as tiānfùluó (天婦羅) and can commonly be found on the menu in Japanese restaurants all over the island. A similar-sounding dish, tianbula (Chinese: 甜不辣; pinyin: tiánbùlà; lit. 'sweet, not spicy') is usually sold at night markets. Tianbula is actually Japanese satsuma-age and was introduced to Taiwan under Japanese rule by people from Kyushu, where satsuma-age is commonly known as tempura.
- List of Japanese dishes#Deep-fried dishes (agemono, 揚げ物)
- Ebi furai: a Japanese dish of breaded and deep-fried shrimp.
- Karaage: a Japanese cooking technique in which various foods—-most often chicken, but also other meat and fish—-are coated with flour and deep-fried in oil.
- Kushikatsu: a Japanese dish of breaded and deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables.
- Tonkatsu: Japanese breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet.
- Toriten: a Japanese fritter of marinated chicken.
- Karakudamono: a Japanese term used to collectively describe assorted pastry confections of Chinese origin (also called togashi).
- Unbreaded fritters:
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- Amando de Miguel (26 February 2006). "Étimos héticos". Libertad Digital (in Spanish). Retrieved 17 September 2021.
el tempura japonés (= pescado o verduras en rebozo) se llamó así porque los primeros jesuitas certificaron que esos bocados eran buenos para guardar el ayuno y abstinencia de las témporas
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"Premixed flour for Tempura" is a product made from soft flour, starch, baking bowder, ...
- web page of the whole literature: Standard tables of food composition in Japan 2015 (Seventh Revised Edition) (archive )
- No panko appears in definition of tempura: "Tempura" 天麩羅 テンプラ. Digital Daijisen (デジタル大辞泉) (in Japanese) (constantly updated ed.). Shogakukan. Retrieved 2021-08-16 – via kotobank.jp.
(rough translation): 1.[...ingredients] dipped in batter made of wheat flour, egg and water, then fried in vegetable oil. Vegetable tempuras are somtimes distinguished and called "shōjin-age". [...]
- "Furai (ryouri)" フライ (料理) [Fry (cooking)]. Encyclopedia Nipponica web version (in Japanese) (constantly updated ed.). Shogakukan. Retrieved 2021-08-16 – via kotobank.jp.
(rough translation): In Western cuisine, "frying" means to deep-fry or sautee in oils or fats. [...] In Japan, "furai" refers to foods that are dipped in wheat flour, beaten egg, bread crumbs and then deep-fried, [...]. If the ingredient is meat, it is called "chikin katsuretsu", "pōku katsuretsu (tonkatsu)" etc., respectively.[...]
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´tempura´, fritura japonesa de mariscos y vegetales ligada a la costumbre cristiana de no tomar carne en las témporas, e introducida por misioneros ibéricos en Nagasaki"
- David Farley (10 August 2017). "The truth about Japanese tempura". BBC. Retrieved 17 September 2021.
eaten during Lent or Ember days (the word ‘tempura’ comes from the Latin word tempora, a term referring to these times of fasting), when the church dictated that Catholics go meatless
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Témporas are the Christian liturgical cycles corresponding to the end and beginning of the four seasons of the year, consecrated especially to prayer and penance. As is easy to guess, témporas comes from tempus (time) and its plural tempora (times). The typical food in those seasons (in which you could not eat meat) was fried fish, which in Japanese ended up being called tempura
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