Perhaps I could have set higher expectations for my year abroad than to eat a bowl of battered-fried vegetables but, as a woman, I am genetically predisposed to being attracted to anything laden with fat and/or sugar, so I happily added tempura to the list of conquests.
I’m the kind of person would basically eat her own foot if it was covered in batter anyway, so I knew all along that tempura couldn’t possibly fail me.
I was not disappointed. In ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ style I ate them in restaurants, karaoke joints, izakayas, in Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, Shikoku, in tiny dishes, from large platters, piled on top of a steaming bowl of udon, with sushi… almost anywhere I could order them, I did.
Real Japanese Tempura (yes, with capital letters) is crispy, light and so subtly delicious that my mouth is watering right now thinking about the taste of dipping it whilst still warm into a dish of tentsuyu (tempura sauce), tilting my head back and dropping the entire thing into my mouth like those claw machines at fairgrounds. It’s an art that any true British person has mastered by the age of seven from practising since birth, The Art of Dipping the Rich Tea Biscuit – how to perfectly time the immersion so that you could pop the morsel in your mouth dripping with liquid on the outside and yet still remain crispy on the inside.
Good tempura batter tastes like buttery air and the vegetables still maintain their fresh sweet taste even after frying (deceitfully disguising the calories hidden inside).
Like the ‘scrambled egg test’ that a lot of trainee chefs have to pass in order to prove that they can cook well, (the premise is that if they can’t cook even a simple dish properly, then they have no hope), it’s hard to find Real Japanese Tempura anywhere else other than in the kitchen of a skilled chef. I remember once my host mother tried to make it but there wasn’t enough air in the batter so it was more like a piece of chopped vegetable was trapped inside dough mixture (which I had no problem with eating anyway), rather than wrapped in a delicate cocoon of translucent batter.
Speaking of transluscency, I can tell from my almost sexual way of describing Real Japanese Tempura that I enjoyed it a bit too much. Now I have become one of those people who have been to Nirvana and has come back to never be able to face a cod and chips again without comparing it to tempura and thinking, “Ew, this tastes like my foot in batter”.