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The Interesting History of Tempura


Courtesy of chou_i_c / Flickr.

What kind of food do you associate with Japan? Sushi? Ramen? I would like to write about one particularly delicious type of Japanese food: Tempura.

Tempura is a well-known fried food made from fish and/or vegetables such as prawn, whitefish, and pumpkin. In order to make Tempura, first we have to make the batter which is composed of wheat flour, eggs and water. We then dip the ingredient into this batter and fry them. You can eat it with salt or Tempura sauce which is made up of soup base, sweet sake and soy sauce.

Tempura. Image by OiMax | Flickr.

Tempura has a relatively long history in Japan, but surprisingly, tempura was not born in Japan. Tempura was introduced into Japan in the middle of the 16th century from Portugal. Tempura did not spread to ordinary people in Japan for some time because it was made with a lot of oil, which made it prohibitively expensive at that time. However, in the Edo period (1603-1867), tempura got less expensive and became much more popular among the common people. Tempura was so popular that it was even mentioned in some books and essays. At first, people regarded tempura as just a snack and it was often sold in stands. It was not until the Meiji period (1868-1912) that tempura restaurants began to appear, and gradually tempura has been considered as a typical Japanese dish.

There is an interesting anecdote that shows just how much tempura meant to Edo-era Japanese people. The Edo period was created and managed by the Tokugawa family. Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun (i.e. samurai general), was very careful about his health in his old age, yet he still loved tempura very much. Even though he paid the closest attention to his health, he was so engrossed in tempura that one day he ate too much of it, which eventually led to his death. Even if the authenticity of this story is questionable, it is fair to say that it implies tempura was considered a common dish in the Edo period.

Tempura is just a food, but have you ever thought about the history of Japanese food itself? I recommend you consider learning more about the history of these sorts of day to day food. Maybe it will change your viewpoint on this sort of food and it will lead to a positive change in your eating life.

Originally posted on June 29, 2015


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