Traditional Japanese cuisine does not include a lot of fried food. However, its signature fried food, which is tempura, is loved the world over.
Tempura is quite unlike your typical fried treat. It’s not oily and stodgy. The texture is light and flaky, and it delicious preserves the original flavor of the ingredients covered in tempura batter.
But apart from such unique qualities, there are still more that people love about this Japanese fried food that has been around since the 18th century. Find out what they are below.
1. It’s fried fast.
When food is fried fast, it does not absorb as much oil, which is better for health. Also, due to the small cuts of the ingredients, there’s no need to make them linger in oil for a long time.
The tempura cooking method manages to maintain the natural flavor, structural, and textural integrity of ingredients. This makes for a rather delightful eating experience.
2. As far as fried foods go, tempura is considerably healthier.
As mentioned above, the frying time is much shorter, and the oil does not seep too much into the ingredients covered in batter. Less oil in food is always better for health. If you’re wondering how the ingredient in the batter is cooked, the steam from the fried batter does the job.
Plus, the ingredients are for tempura are rarely fatty too. The common ingredients are divided into two broad groups – seafood and vegetables. For seafood, it’s usually prawns, squid, and small fish with a light flavor such as gobi and sweetfish are commonly used. None of these come with too much natural oil, which is why the tempura oil manages to highlight their gentle and sweet flavor.
Meanwhile, for vegetables, most root crops, eggplants, asparagus, string beans, can be turned into tempura. They’re never overcooked. Therefore, you may say that they get to retain more of their nutrients.
3. You can enjoy it in different ways.
Tempura can be eaten on its own as a snack. In South Korea, a Japanese food stall even makes ginseng tempura that locals munch on while exploring famous shopping streets.
But you can also eat tempura with rice. A lot of homemakers like to add tempura to their family members’ bento boxes. Meanwhile, ramen shops are also known to add fish, Ebi (prawn), or squid tempura as toppings for noodles. They say customers particularly enjoy the contradiction between the crispiness of tempura and the chewiness of soba noodles.
4. Tempura makes bitter wild vegetables milder in flavor.
Wild vegetables, which are deemed superfoods, are often bitter, which is why a lot of people have a hard time eating them. However, when turned into tempura, they lose some of their bitterness and become quite appetizing.
This is the reason why ginseng, which has a rather strong flavor and pungent odor, easily becomes a snack when turned into tempura.
5. You can still see the original color of the ingredients even when covered with tempura batter.
Tempura is visually pleasing. Because the batter is light and cooking time is short, the ingredients actually maintain their bright color, which peeps through easily.
You can’t help but enjoy your food more because of the different colors, which never fail to stimulate the appetite.
6. There’s a growing number of ingredients being turned into tempura.
If you’re an adventurous eater, you will surely delight in the new ingredients being turned into tempura by top-rated Japanese restaurants.
These days, everything from boiled conger eel with cherry leaf to mochi and ice cream is cooked in tempura batter. Tempura ice cream, in particular, is gaining global popularity. Various cooking channels teach how you can make it at home as a fancy dessert to go with your favorite Japanese food.
7. Tempura is characteristically “meat-free.”
A large percentage of fried food that people love make use of fatty meat. Tempura does not. Therefore, it easily stands out for a lot of people because it somehow makes tempura a more sophisticated option. However, it’s important to note that this is not just to make this Japanese culinary form unique. Meat tempura is a no-no because it simply cannot achieve the great qualities that tempura is known for.
According to expert tempura chefs from an authentic Japanese cuisine restaurant, the fattiness of meat changes everything about tempura. It would require a longer cooking time, which would change the color of the batter. And, meats that contain a lot of fat just do not taste good as tempura.
Bonus tempura facts:
- Charlie Chaplin was a big fan of tempura. He called it a “world-class cuisine, and nothing could beat it for either flavor or goodness.” His favorite is Ebi or prawn tempura.
- Tempura oil is considered too precious to throw away that it’s turned into candle along with old crayons. In some communities, tempura oil is used to power community lights.
Indeed, there’s a lot to love about tempura, so, the next time you visit a Japanese restaurant in your area, make sure to include this dish in your order.
Chiara Bisignani is the F&B Marketing Executive at Saadiyat Beach Club. She oversees website maintenance, PR requests, marketing initiatives, and all general guests’ inquiries for the company’s destinations of KOI Restaurant & Lounge, Boa Steakhouse, and Caramel Restaurant and Lounge in Abu Dhabi.