Hubert Burda Media

6 Things You Didn’t Know About Tempura

Hideyuki Kikuchi from Tokyo’s acclaimed tempura dining establishment Ginza Tenkuni sheds light on this significant dish.

1. Tempura wasn’t originally from Japan. 

A recent cooking innovation in Japan, tempura gained popularity after the arrival of Spanish and Portugese traders through Nagasaki during the Edo period. Prior to that, cooking with generous amount of oil in Japan was uncommon due to limited supply. Hence, Edo-style tempura refers to the Edo-period when tempura style cooking gained popularity. A primary characteristic that distinguishes the tempura during this period is the prevalent use of sesame oil. 

2. From roadside to fine dining

By the late nineteenth century, tempura gained traction as a popular fast food in Tokyo, commonly sold at roadside stalls and pushcarts. These days, you’ll be able to find tempura at tempura-ya, restaurants that specialise solely in tempura dishes such as Ginza Tenkuni. Equivalent to fine dining, tempura-ya restaurants belong in a higher class category as you’ll be able to sit at the counter while watching the chef prepare the tempura pieces. Over the years, tempura has essentially been refined to a fine dining style. The Ginza Tenkuni building situated in the middle of the busy district of Ginza was initially established as a small street stall in 1885. Today, the restaurant boasts six floors, as each floor offers a different setting and various types of tempura. The most popular dish at the restaurant is the Tendon, as 500 bowls are sold out every day. 

3. The art of perfection

Like most Japanese cuisines, the art of tempura is a sacred ritual, a perfected craft that takes up to 10 years to achieve. As the executive chef at Ginza Tenkuni for 10 years, Hideyuki Kikuchi who also used to serve the royal family in Japan believes that it is important for every chef to adopt a mentor to learn from. The requirements for a tempura chef includes a minimum of 10 years of training. It takes three years just to master how to cook the rice and another three years to grasp the right time to place the dish on the rice bowl. Learning the timing of when to put the sauce on is also imperative in the art of tempura. A skilled chef is also able to judge the temperature of the oil just by dipping the chopsticks with the ingredients into the oil. At the end, the chef will perform a flick when removing the tempura piece from the oil to get rid of any excess grease.  

4. The ultimate tempura secret ingredient

Tentsuyu, the traditional tempura dipping sauce is equally as important as the tempura dish itself. Only two selected chefs in Ginza Tenkuni holds the secret recipe to make their special in-house tentsuyu dipping sauce. Premium quality oil is also required for frying the perfect tempura. Ginza Tenkuni uses their own original blend of oil which consists of sesame oil and corn oil. 

5. Perfect pairing

Though there are a few condiments to pair your tempura with, Kikuchi’s personal favourite is the plum salt that goes especially well with a glass of sake. If you’re planning to have your tempura with rice, then the tentsuyu sauce will be the preferred option. 

6. Artful presentation

Kikuchi’s cooking philosophy revolves around more than just importing fresh ingredients from the different regions in Japan. As an award-winning master carver, he loves introducing colours into his dish. He will attempt to include at least three different colours into his dish as he stresses that Japanese cuisine emphasises on the presentation of the dish.