The shrimp was fresh; they were transparent and plump, the heads firmly attached to the rest of the body. Time for a catch-of-the-day dinner, I decided. Bought about two dozen pieces and a bunch of sitao, Asian long beans which Mark loves.
I prepared the shrimp tempura style, and he sautéed the sitao with garlic. Two glasses of white wine, and we were set.
What is tempura? Sounds like a Japanese word, right? It calls to mind terms like sakura, meaning “cherry blossom,” or the greeting konbanwa, meaning “good evening.”
Tempura is a method of cooking by which fish and vegetables are dipped into a batter and fried quickly in plenty of hot oil. Some sources say that Portuguese missionaries brought tempura to Japan in the 16th century. I say maybe not; people can independently develop methods of cooking; and frying batter-dipped fish or veggies isn’t all that difficult to figure out.
ANYWAYS… Christians had to abstain from meat during Lent, also known as ad tempora quadragesima (roughly, the period of 40 days of penitence until Easter). It’s possible that the European missionaries, not inclined to the raw or steamed fish diet of the Japanese, popularized the frying method and its association with the word tempora among their converts. That’s my theory.
When discussing food and their places of origin, I like to include maps to help readers place the countries and their surroundings. Japan is on the upper right.
Tempura became popular in southern Japan during the 16th century; Portuguese missionaries were active in Nagasaki, on the island of Kyushu.
In April 2013, I visited my very good friend Sister Carmen Tan Segovia in Matsue. We toured many places, such as the peace memorial in Hiroshima, temples in Osaka, and other interesting places in Chugoku and Kinki.
Among the dishes I tried was udon noodles with shrimp tempura topping. The soup was flavorful, but I thought it didn’t serve the tempura right; the batter quickly got soaked and lost its distinctive crunch.
Sitao will be the subject of another blog on this website.