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What is Tempura?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Tempura is a popular element of Japanese cuisine, and consists of battering fish and/or vegetables and deep frying them. It is distinguished from many other battered and deep fried foods by being much lighter and tending to carry less grease. In addition to being served at many restaurants, tempura is available in Japan at roadside stands, where it is often sold in paper cones for consumption while strolling the street. This style of deep frying is also popular in the West, where it is served at many Japanese restaurants. The light batter has also been adapted for fried foods by some cooks who prefer the more delicate flavor of tempura to conventional heavy batters.

While tempura is associated with Japanese food for many consumers, it was not developed in Japan. The idea of battering and frying foods was brought to Japan by the Portuguese, who explored Japan in the 16th century. Deep fried foods were adapted to Japanese tastes, and the result was tempura, which uses a refined batter.

Most traditional Japanese food incorporates extremely fresh ingredients, with chefs priding themselves upon seafood which was wriggling moments before service. The Japanese culinary tradition tends to be very seasonal, with chefs using the highest quality produce available at any given time. In addition, Japanese cuisine typically uses beautiful presentation from simple to elaborate, with special plates, bowls, and cups depending upon what is being served.

The aesthetics of Japanese cuisine suit tempura well, with cooks using the freshest vegetables possible, dipping them in a light batter, and frying them quickly in hot oil which sears the batter so that oil will not penetrate to the core. Unlike many Western battered and fried foods, tempura uses a very thin layer of batter, which puffs up around the object being fried to make a lacy and crunchy shell.

Tempura uses a batter made from rice flour, ice water, and eggs. The batter is made very runny so that it makes a thin coating over the object being fried, and objects are fried immediately after being battered. Tempura is a made to order food, and the finest examples should come out of the fryer and onto the consumer's plate, to be eaten as quickly as possible. Much like sushi, tempura is often eaten at bars where consumers can watch the cook prepare the food, which is served as soon as it is ready.

Tempura can be ordered by the single piece or as part of a set meal, which usually includes soup, rice, and pickled vegetables. When ordered as part of a meal, it is usually varied, and will include several pieces of seafood along with vegetables. Either way, the pieces should be light, golden and delicious.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Jester39 — On May 18, 2011

@uzumba2 - The tempura batter typically consists of rice flour, ice water (with ice cubes), and eggs.

It's very simple, very light, and you could find an exact recipe online somewhere, I'm sure. My favorite veggies to cook tempura-style are sweet potato wedges, cauliflower, broccoli and zucchini. It's such a great way to get your veggies.

By uzumba2 — On May 15, 2011

I'd like to make my own tempura batter at home. Can anyone tell me what ingredients are typically used in the tempura batter recipe?

By rosequartz — On May 14, 2011

I love Japanese food and I love tempura recipes. I've heard plenty of people say that healthy tempura is an oxymoron. True, but tempura may be lighter than other fried foods.

It's still fried in oil so I'd recommend eating it sparingly.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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