Tempura: From the Portuguese kitchen to Japanese food-carts

by Sanjeev Kapoor

When you think of Japanese cuisine, apart from ramen or sushi, the one thing that is equally popular is Tempura. These deep-fried crunchy delights are made using a light wheat and egg batter which is either coated on vegetables like bamboo shoots, bell pepper, butternut squash, carrot eggplant etc. or fishes like prawn, shrimp, squid, scallop, crab etc. And while they’re delicious and everything; they are not originally Japanese.

Where did it come from?

Present on Japan’s food map since the 16th century, Tempura was actually brought to Japan from the tropical lands of Portugal. According to the tales, in 1543, a group of three Portuguese sailors on a Chinese ship got off course and landed at Tanegashima Island – a part of the Osumi Islands which is in the easternmost part of Japan. Discovering a new land, they started trading good and arms with the Japanese. This also enabled the exchange of cultures, lifestyle and of course, food.

Peixinhos da Horta

The dish that turned into the tempura that is popularly known today is actually called Peixinhos da Horta, which is basically green beans deep fried with the wheat-egg batter. During 16th century Tempura was deep-fried in lard with a batter consisting of flour, water, eggs, and salt. However, over centuries Tempura evolved and got influenced by Japanese condiments and sauces to give it a more homely feel.

While Portuguese thought that everything was going pretty-well, it actually wasn’t. In 1639, they were banished from Japan, but the Tempura still remained in the hearts of Japanese people.

The Yatai Food-cart culture

In the beginning of the 17th century, the Yatai food cart culture gained popularity. It adopted the Tempura and fused it with fresh fish while the batter only utilized flour eggs and water. Since the batter was lightly mixed in cold water, it didn’t result in dough-like stickiness caused by the activation of wheat gluten. This resulted in the crispy texture that Tempura is popularly known for today.

But how did Tempura become such an iconic street-food in Japanese cuisine? During those times, deep-frying inside the house was considered as a fire-hazard since the houses in those days were made using paper and wood. Thus gaining popularity in food stalls on the street.

Over many years, Tempura has gone through a major overhaul in its taste, flavour and cooking methods, but it is really interesting to see that such a small occurrence in the past has led to the creation of one of the most popular and iconic street food of the Japan, loved by the world.

Wanna make your tempuras at home? Try out this really simple mixed-vegetable tempura recipe and bring some Japanese flair to your dining table.

Vegetable Tempura - https://www.sanjeevkapoor.com/Recipe/Vegetable-Tempura.html


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MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.