A Brief History of Tempura in Japanese Cooking

Tempura is a standard menu item in many Japanese restaurants and is a meal or appetizer made with fried fish and vegetables. Typical fish options include shrimp and white fish, and the vegetables are often carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, squash, and mushrooms. Take a look at the history of tempura in Japanese dining:

Origins of Tempura

The Japanese people have a long history of taking foreign foods and recreating them to suit Japanese tastes. The frying style used for tempura was introduced to Japan in the 16 th century by Portuguese missionaries. The meal that provided the inspiration for tempura was designed to feed Christians during Lent. In this span, when many Christian denominations are forbidden to eat meat, missionaries referred to their meal as ad tempora cuaresma , which is Latin for “in the time of Lent.” This term was misinterpreted by the Japanese as the name for the cooking style.

Popularity of Tempura

In its beginnings, tempura was typically enjoyed by the wealthy of Japan due to its use of oil, an ingredient that was expensive at the time. During the Edo period (1603-1867), however, cooking oil became more affordable, and tempura was soon a popular food throughout the Japanese population. Eventually, tempura evolved from being a snack eaten between meals to a course served as the main dish. During the Meiji period (1868-1912), restaurants were built specifically to serve primarily tempura, and this dish became associated with Japanese dining.

Tempura of Today

Tempura is one of the most commonly ordered Japanese foods outside of Japan and is distinct from other fried foods due to its batter that uses less grease and no bread crumbs. Today, tempura is typically served with rice or soba noodles with a side of dipping sauce, but you can sometimes find tempura style sushi rolls, fruit, and ice cream. Originally a foreign dish, tempura is now considered a traditional Japanese food.

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