One of the most popular Japanese dishes in North America, tempura is a deep-frying method that produces extremely light, crispy food, most commonly vegetables or seafood like prawns.
This frying technique was actually introduced to Japan by Portuguese missionaries in the 1600s, and the name tempura comes from the Latin “tempora,” referring to the amended fasting periods observed by the Roman Catholics. Of course, the Japanese took these Portuguese fritters and then turned them into something uniquely their own.
Unlike panko breadcrumb-fried foods, tempura uses a batter made of flour, egg, and ice-cold water. The cold temperature of the water is crucial to creating the bumps and subsequent larger surface area that makes tempura extra crunchy. Another critical step to this is mixing the batter as minimally and lightly as possible; overmixing forms gluten that would result in a chewier, softer, smoother fry.
Tempura is at its best served immediately so it’s hot and as crispy as possible, usually accompanied with tentsuyu dipping sauce made from dashi, mirin, and soy.
Meanwhile, the leftover crunchy batter bits that inevitably form during the frying process are called tenkasu, and these are often used themselves as a topping for other foods.
You can get hot, fresh tempura in Uwajimaya’s deli. And if you’re looking to make your own, you can find items to fry in the produce or seafood departments, while tempura batter mix and dipping sauce ingredients are available in the grocery department.