Tempura (Japanese deep-fried dish) (天ぷら)

Tempura is a Japanese dish of deep fried battered meats, seafood, vegetables or sansai (plants growing wild in fields and mountains.)
It is referred to as 天麩羅 and 天婦羅 in Japanese. The word 'tempura' is also used to refer to satsuma-age, a fried fish cake (for the details, see the 'satsuma-age section) in western Japan.


As Japanese people come across lots of opportunities to eat tempura from a standing-up-eating shops to high-class Japanese-style restaurants, it is a very familiar dish in Japan, and is recognized as a typical Japanese dish as well as sushi and sukiyaki abroad. Tempura provides an opportunity to enjoy fluffy and crisp tempura and seasonal food.

Ingredients called "tane (or, neta)" are dipped in a batter made with eggs and flour, then deep-fried in heated oil. In order to distinguish from each other, originally, deep fried battered seafood as neta was only referred to as tempura and deep fried vegetables were referred to as 'Shojin-age,' but the term of tempura is currently used as a general description to refer to tempura including the Shojin-age. Adding 'ten' to the name of tane such as Ebi (shrimp) and Nasu (eggplant), deep fried Ebi and Nasu are called 'Ebi-ten (deep-fried shrimp)' and 'Nasu-ten (deep-fried eggplant),' respectively. Common tane in traditional tempura includes shrimp, squid, eggplant, sweet pepper, sweet potato, and kabocha squash (pumpkin), and the greatest benefits are to enjoy seasonal ingredients without particularly limiting kinds of tane.
However, meats are generally improper for tempura tane (except for Toriten or deep-fried chicken as local dish in Oita Prefecture.)

Tempura is often considered an appealing dish among Japanese foods, and chef's skill and technique are exactly reflected in the taste, although the cooking process is simple.

Tempura is often served with soba (noodles made from buckwheat) and udon wheat noodles.

Tempura Restaurant (specialty shop)

A tempura restaurant resembles a sushi restaurant in several aspects and cooks deep-fry tane stored in a showcase on a counter in front of customers and serve it to them. In Kansai, tempura prepared in a kitchen is served to customers.

Cooking procedure

A light batter is made of cold water, eggs and wheat flour, and the ingredients are dipped into the batter and deep fried using oil at a temperature of 160 to 180 degrees Celsius.

It requires skill to cook crispier tempura. An unskilled person may be able to cook tempura with a heavy oily coating, resulting in very bad quality. A chef should be able 'to make the coating fluffy and in full bloom,' and there is a technique to make the coating look bigger and have a tasty crispy texture. Tempura is served with noodles as Tanemono (topping for noodles), and it requires a practiced skill to make the coating fluffy and distinguished-looking. In case of tendon (a tempura rice bowl) and kakiage (deep-fried vegetable strips, shrimp, etc.), a thicker coating is recommendable.

For tips useful in cooking tempura,

Keep it cold.

Don't over-mix it.

are some important tips. These are the procedures to prevent the production of wheat gluten, which may prevent a crisp texture. Old wheat flour which is apt to produce a lesser amount of gluten may be intentionally used. It is improper to mix the batter until no lumps of flour are left in the mixture.

To cook crisp tempura, tempura-ko (flour for tempura) which is formulated with the effervescent additives such as sodium hydrogen carbonate and baking powder is available in supermarkets in recent years, and is used for home-made tempura.

Since deep frying oil is a crucial factor to determine the flavor of tempura, specialty shops use the mixture of sesame oil and cotton oil according to their own formula. Camellia oil may be used in expensive restaurants and local shops or restaurants. Salad oil is popular for home-made tempura, and adding a bit sesame oil will enhance the finish of tempura quite a bit more. There is a general tendency toward using luscious sesame oil in Kanto and mild vegetable oil in Kansai.

Although the kinds of tane are not determined, it is common to avoid foods (clams - common orient clam, squid, etc.) which may harden when cooked at a high temperature. In case of Sansai and Sanyaso (plants growing wild in fields and mountains), preparations such as removing scum are necessary in other methods of cooking, but are hardly required for tempura, and tempura cooking is very popular when people want to taste picked Sanyaso promptly at a Sanyaso picking gathering.

The temperature of tane can sharply rise during cooking and care should be taken about bursting caused by the air or steam enclosed between the tane and the batter. Particularly, when a shrimp with a tail is deep fried, splitting the tip of the tail should be done beforehand to take out the water/liquid contained in it. Also, to ensure the distinguished-looking finish of tempura, it is advisable to apply invisible splits or cuts to tane or cut strings.

Serving style

When tempura is served as a single dish, seasoning soy sauce is customarily used to dip it, and depending on the ingredients, citrus fruit juice may be an alternative sauce. Soy sauce seasoning is basically made from dashi (Japanese soup stock made from fish and kelp) and soy sauce, and served as dipping sauce with spices such as grated daikon radish, a mixture of grated daikon radish and red pepper and/or grated ginger.

Also, in order to enjoy the sophisticated taste of the ingredients, salt is very common for the substitute of dipping sauce. Plain arajio (salt) and the mixture of the plain arajio and other ingredients such as Matcha (green powdered tea) (Matcha salt), curry powder (curry salt), Japanese lemon peel (Japanese lemon salt) and sansho (Chinese pepper) will be served with tempura.

There are regions where local people eat tempura dipped in soy sauce and Worcester sauce. Worcester sauce is more popular in the western Japan.

Tendon (tempura placed on top of steamed rice in a bowl with sauce sprinkled over it),' 'Tempura-soba (buckwheat noodles topped with tempura prawns)' and 'Tempura-udon (wheat noodle topped with tempura prawns)' are common dishes, and these three kinds of dishes are the most expensive and star dishes in donburi and noodle menus in many soba restaurants.

In addition, there is another dish called 'tencha (Tempura-chazuke: steamed rice topped with kakiage and hot green tea)' in which dashi or green tea is powered over steamed rice topped with kakiage and wasabi (Japanese horse radish.)

Self-cooking by a group of people

There is cooking similar to oil fondue style in which a group of people set a deep fryer on a portable stove (or an electromagnetic cooker) on a dining table and deep-fry battered ingredients in heated cooking oil, just like a Nabe-ryori (hot pot.)
This may be called 'Ozashiki-Tempura (tempura is cooked directly by the eaters in a room.)'


Tempura was introduced by missionary priests in the 16th century of the Sengoku period (period of Warring States.)
Priests seemed to dip fish into batter made of water and wheat and deep-fry it in heated cooking oil. It is thought to have been called 'Nanbanyaki' at that time. However, the recipe initially introduced seems to be an original form for the current fritter. Fritter is covered with a soft and fluffy coating, while tempura is covered with a crisp coating, that is different. Therefore, 'tempura' as a Japanese dish can be said to be a unique dish in Japan.

In the Edo period, tempura was a convenient dish which was very available for ordinary people at food stalls. Later, tempura prepared using sesame oil in Edomae (Tokyo style) and cotton oil in Kyoto began to be offered in restaurants, and became an expensive dish in later years.

Word origin

There are several views about the origin of the word "tempura".

the Portuguese temporas (referring to sacred period of time)

the Portuguese tempero (referring to seasoning)

Inflection of the Portuguese temperar (verb: referring to "add seasoning" or "firm up using oil") to third person singular is TEMPERA (e.g. add seasoning to food or firm up food using oil.)

the Spanish and Portuguese templo (referring to temple)

the Spanish and Italian tempora (referring to holy day in four seasons)

It is thought to have been derived from these.

It is thought that 'Tempura (天麩羅)' was a phonetic equivalent born in later years and coined by Kyoden SANTO during the Edo period.


It is thought that the term 'tempura' was initially a general description of oil-cooked dishes introduced from overseas to Kyushu region and Okinawa Prefecture and became widely used to refer to any sort of food prepared using hot oil, including some already existing Japanese foods such as satsuma age (a fried fish cake which is made without batter.)
As time passed into the Edo period, deep-fried fish and seafood only were called 'tempura', and deep-fried vegetables were called Shojin-age in order to distinguish it from tempura.

Tempura covered by coating using more egg yolks was called Kinpura, and using more egg whites was called Ginpura. At present, those past differing names were unified to tempura and the above naming is available only in part of Japan.

There is kakiage which is prepared by deep-frying the mixture of chopped or originally small vegetables and fish and seafood and batter in heated oil.
Also, there is Isobe-age (deep-fried vegetables or meats with Itanori), which is prepared by deep-frying the mixture of green laver and batter, ingredients wrapped only by Itanori (sheeted green laver) and ingredients with battered Itanori (batter put on one side of Itanori.)

Uncommon ingredients for Tempura

Deep-fried ice cream, which got into the news because the frozen ice cream did not melt despite being prepared using hot oil. When ice cream is wrapped with castella sponge cake or other food absorbing a lot of air is quickly deep-fried, the ice cream does not melt because the air prevents the heat from transferring to the inside.

Deep-fried manju (bun stuffed with adzuki-bean paste) is mainly referred to battered and deep-fried Saka-manju (sake liquor bun stuffed with adzuki-bean paste) and some of deep-fried manju have been commercialized as age-manju (deep-fried bun with adzuki-bean paste.) (See the manju section.)

Deep-fried dried persimmon, the recipe of which is to take out the inside meat from a dried persimmon, stuff mustard in it, dip it into batter and deep-fry it. Fritter type of batter may be used.

Deep-fried umeboshi (pickled plum), which is prepared by coating umeboshi with batter and deep-frying it. To be served in Fucha-ryori (maigre dish using certain foods), salt should be removed from umeboshi placing it in water for a long time and cooked in syrup and the sweetened umeboshi is deep-fried after battered. There are cases in which deep-fried umeboshi will be soaked in heated syrup.
Such deep-fried umeboshi is usually served for Hashi-yasume (different-kinds-of tasteful enjoyable dishes.)

It is often added in tempura udon with a half-boiled egg.

Deep-fried sea urchin, the preparation of which is to wrap fragile sea urchin with nori (dried laver seaweed) and deep-fry it.

Deep-fried red pickled ginger, which is a popular food in Kansai and put on sale in supermarkets.

Deep-fried nemacystus decipiens, which is marketed in Okinawa as major source of nemacystus decipiens.

Deep-fried sushi, which is often referred to deep-fried maki-zushi (sushi roll), and there are some restaurants offering even deep-fried Nigiri-zushi (small portion of rice with fish, etc. on top.)

Banana fritter.

Deep-fried apple, the preparation of which is to deep-fry a piece of apple and the stalk of Japanese honewort together.

Ikada-gobo (burdock), the preparation of which is to cut gobo into thick pieces, soften the pieces by flapping them with a cooking knife, simmer it in light seasoning and after forming them into the shape of wooded raft, deep-fry the raft-shape gobo.

Tempura in local areas

The following dishes are cooked in some local areas.

Nagasaki-tempura, the preparation of which is very similar to fritters, but the batter is made of flour, eggs and sake liquor, without milk. To deep-fry it neatly, a special technique will be required because no water is added to the batter. Ingredients are the same as regular tempura with the exception that chicken and other meats are used for Nagasaki-tempura.
Even if Nagasaki-tempura gets cold, it is still delicious, so Nagasaki-tempura is often served as a menu of shippoku-ryori (a banquet-style offering and a combination of Chinese, Japanese, and European dishes.)
The batter is seasoned beforehand, so Nagasaki-tempura is still delicious without dipping sauce.

Goren Nagasaki, the ingredients of which are already seasoned before deep-fried, unlike tempura. Meats are often used as ingredients.
It is believed to have been an origin of karage (deep-fried chicken, potatoes, etc.)

Okinawa tempura, which is eaten with nothing or Worcester sauce because salt, soy sauce or dashi broth soup is blended in the batter. Ingredients are white meat fish and vegetables. Batter is made of several eggs (four eggs and a half cup of water) and the deep-fried coating will become thick. A piece of deep-fried Okinawa tempura is about two centimeters wide and eight centimeters long. To put the tempura into a Jubako (tiered lunch box) or on a plate, the tempura should be cut into four round slices and the slices should be put in a Jubako or on a plate cut side up. Okinawa tempura which is cold is often eaten. Okinawa tempura is often served for a tea break or as a snack. It is sold at fish shops or mom-and-pop candy shops, and eaten at the shop or for to-go. Also, Okinawa tempura packed in a Jubako is sold by catering businesses. In Okinawa, the term 'tempura' is often referred to as Okinawa tempura, but there is of course the regular tempura described above. Sata andagi (sweet deep-fried buns of dough), sweet in Okinawa may be called 'sugar tempura', and is an almost direct translation in terms of the common language in main land.

Deep-fried Mentaiko (spicy cod roe, salted for preservation and spiced with Korean chili pepper), which is available in Hakata which Mentaiko is a specialty for.

Derivative meanings

According to the myth, Ieyasu TOKUNAGA died from a bad deep-fried sea beam. Since it was not common to deep-fry battered foods in that era, it is believed that deep-fried sea beam was similar to Satsuma-age.

During the Edo period, tempura cooking was prohibited in the Edo Castle. It was believed that tempura was refused due to the above myth. But, the truth was when one of Oku-jochu (maids working for the daimyo (Japanese territorial lord) of shogun family) was cooking tempura, she almost caught on fire.

In the course of the production of confectioneries, it was called 'tempura' to apply coating to the surface of Japanese confectioneries with molasses or Yokan (adzuki-bean jelly.)

When a ball is unintentionally hit very high in the air in a golf competition or baseball game, it is called 'tempura' ('ageru' a ball and 'ageru' tempura.)

When there occurs an air hole in solder connections due to poor soldering, this is called 'tempura handa (soldering).'

There are many Ebi-ten prepared to make a small shrimp look very big using the fluffy coating, and the word 'Ebi-ten' is used as a metaphor when a certain situation is described 'misleading' or 'empty inside.'

When a car is disguised to be one with a better performance by showing faster speed than when in fact driven, it is called 'tempura the meter' in jargon.

When a car carries a forged car registration plate stating a wrong number instead of the undercarriage number which has been registered for the vehicle, it is called 'tempura number.'

It is called 'tempura hoso (pavement)' to only surface a street without overhauling its road base.

In spite of non-enrolment, a person disguised to be a student wearing a school uniform or attending a class without permission is called 'tempura gakusei (student).'
(Word origin means 'only coating.')

Principally in the newspaper industry, illusory contracts are called 'tempura.'

To cover up the bloodline of a thoroughbred horse and Anglo-Arabian horse is called 'tempura.'
For the details, please see tempura (horse.)

[Original Japanese]