Tempura is a popular element of Japanese cuisine, and consists of battering fish and/or vegetables and deep frying them. It is distinguished from many other battered and deep fried foods by being much lighter and tending to carry less grease. In addition to being served at many restaurants, tempura is available in Japan at roadside stands, where it is often sold in paper cones for consumption while strolling the street. This style of deep frying is also popular in the West, where it is served at many Japanese restaurants. The light batter has also been adapted for fried foods by some cooks who prefer the more delicate flavor of tempura to conventional heavy batters.
While tempura is associated with Japanese food for many consumers, it was not developed in Japan. The idea of battering and frying foods was brought to Japan by the Portuguese, who explored Japan in the 16th century. Deep fried foods were adapted to Japanese tastes, and the result was tempura, which uses a refined batter.
Most traditional Japanese food incorporates extremely fresh ingredients, with chefs priding themselves upon seafood which was wriggling moments before service. The Japanese culinary tradition tends to be very seasonal, with chefs using the highest quality produce available at any given time. In addition, Japanese cuisine typically uses beautiful presentation from simple to elaborate, with special plates, bowls, and cups depending upon what is being served.
The aesthetics of Japanese cuisine suit tempura well, with cooks using the freshest vegetables possible, dipping them in a light batter, and frying them quickly in hot oil which sears the batter so that oil will not penetrate to the core. Unlike many Western battered and fried foods, tempura uses a very thin layer of batter, which puffs up around the object being fried to make a lacy and crunchy shell.
Tempura uses a batter made from rice flour, ice water, and eggs. The batter is made very runny so that it makes a thin coating over the object being fried, and objects are fried immediately after being battered. Tempura is a made to order food, and the finest examples should come out of the fryer and onto the consumer's plate, to be eaten as quickly as possible. Much like sushi, tempura is often eaten at bars where consumers can watch the cook prepare the food, which is served as soon as it is ready.
Tempura can be ordered by the single piece or as part of a set meal, which usually includes soup, rice, and pickled vegetables. When ordered as part of a meal, it is usually varied, and will include several pieces of seafood along with vegetables. Either way, the pieces should be light, golden and delicious.