Japanese Tempura and its Portuguese Roots (History/Origin of Tempura)

The Portuguese got around, and they left their influence everywhere on so many countries around the world.

One reason for that is because they were explorers and one of the oldest countries in Europe. They traded with the Japanese which is how they dropped their steez on the Japanese in the form of tempura or what they call “peixinhos da horta”… yea tempura is a lot easier to say, but thank you Portugal.

Even more amazing, even the name “Japan” has Portuguese influence because the Chinese name for Japan is Zeppen, but the Malay and Indonesian translation are jipang, jepang, or jepun. This is the name Portuguese traders brought to Europe, but you should know the official Japanese name is Nihon or Nippon…. just don’t be calling anybody a nip.

Now that you know the origin, you may now feel compelled to prepare tempura at home. If you like to deep fry then you shouldn’t have a problem doing it yourself (I’ve even made tempura after a night of drinking at 2am… not the smartest thing: hot oil/alcohol).

This is what you’ll need to make preparing tempura easy:

  • Three bowls (optional)
    I typically use one bowl to pre-dredge the ingredient into dry tempura batter which I believe helps when you drop the ingredient into the wet batter. The other two bowls will consist of one that you’ll set in a larger bowl lined with ice.
  • Ice
    This is key because you’ll need it to keep the batter cold. If you don’t, you’ll stand a higher chance of producing a bunch of soggy tempura (and that’s just sad).
  • Tempura batter
    You can mix your own combo of cake/rice flour, baking soda, and potato starch, but I said this is the “easy” way to do tempura.
  • Cooking oil
    I use vegetable oil, but I’m not too particular about it – I should probably look into which is best because the fanciest I get is by putting a touch of sesame oil into the oil. If you have any preferential cooking oil, let me know.
  • Cast iron pan or dutch oven for deep frying
    If you’re a novice, and you’re afraid to fry, I suggest the dutch oven because it’s high sided to prevent any oil from going over the sides. If that were to happen it could lead to a fire although that only happens due to the moisture content and how much you dump into the oil at one time. I use a fairly high-sided cast iron pan that looks like it’s a WW2 tank that’s served in combat.
  • Paper towels
    You’ll need this to put down on the plate you’ll use to place the finished tempura on. It’ll help to soak up the excessive oil.
  • Ohashi (aka chopsticks or you can use tenazas/tenacillas/tongs)
    Yea you can use tongs, but I feel as though ohashi gives you the most control with frying the food without crushing the tempura. Although if you still use a ohashi helper, you just might stick with the strainer or tongs (you don’t want to accidentally drop things back into the oil which can create a splash).
  • A steel strainer
    This is what you’ll use to clean your oil periodically which is where you’ll get your tenkasu from. If you don’t know what that is, it’s the crunchy little bits of deep fried batter that’s left-over when you’re preparing tempura. This is great to use later as a topping for soba or udon.

Tempura Recipes

If you’re looking for a complete recipe, I’m going to refer you to other sites because I can’t stand reading content that was just copy’n’pasted from other sites.

  • This is an OG site that I’ve used numerous times Japanese Cooking 101.
  • This looks to be a very traditional tempura recipe on Go Japanese.
  • A Singaporean site with an amazing looking tempura – not sure if they took the picture, but they did include a video by KaitenSushiTV
  • Last but not least, Just One Cookbook (tempura just looks jus’ aight although overall tutorial the has a lot of good pictures).

Tempura Powder/Mix/Batter

As for the brands of tempura batter (tempurako = “tempura powder”) I’d suggest, here’s whats in my cupboards and what my family used for decades:

Nisshin tempurako
Hime brand. This is what my family used for decades.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: