Tempura is something we have all eaten in some form or the other. Tempura refers to a dish of seafood or vegetable that is coated with a light batter, unflavoured except for seasoning and then deep fried. This was something introduced to the Japanese by the Portuguese. The Portuguese introduced deep frying to the Japanese. After that Tempura has become an absolute rage.
In India we have our version of Tempura where vegetables are coated in a batter and deep fried. We call them `Pakoras’ or `Bhajjia’, there being a few crucial differences from a true Tempura. The batter we use in India is normally chickpea flour or `besan’ as opposed to `maida’ which the Japanese use. The other difference is we more often than not flavour our batter with Turmeric, Chilli Powder and other spices. Lastly, our batter coats the vegetable far more heavily than Tempura batter.
I often wondered what is so great with Tempura that it has achieved such fame. It is not that difficult to deep fry something. The trick is to get the oil hot. That is unfortunately where most of us fail. We simply do not get the oil hot. Often if the oil is hot we dump too much material into it thus effectively lowering its temperature. All this results in an oily end result.
So, what would an ideal Tempura be? Obviously it should not be oily. The batter should be light and totally crunchy. A necessary corollary is that the item should be presented as soon as possible after frying and the punter should eat it as hot as possible. An ideal Tempura should be cooked thru and the taste of the vegetable should shine thru and not that of the batter. Seasoning and flavouring should be complementary, so it should be simple. Salt, Lemon and Radish mixed with Soy Sauce are the only condiments. All in all not too difficult to do. The only thing is that you should sit in the kitchen and eat as soon as the food is fried. Also you need someone frying your food.
Ten Ichi is an old highly regarded Tempura restaurant that started in 1930 and is still going strong. Everyone who is anyone has eaten there. Jacques Chirac, Kofi Annan, Bill Clinton. Frank Sinatra and Henry Kissinger among others have sampled the Tempura there. So we made a reservation and walked across to the hallowed restaurant.
We were whisked to a lower level and seated at a `C’ shaped counter. In the centre was the Chef, in whites, with a pan for deep frying in front of him. He was to be our personal `Maharaj’ frying `pakoras’ for us. We chose a set meal. You got a largish selection of vegetables and fish along with some rice, Dashi and a dessert. I ordered a beer and HRH the Queen of Kutch got herself a Sake.
Soon the meal started. We got a large plate with a totally ridiculous, tasteless though very pretty, Amuse Bouche. Then the chef told us to take a portion of the grated radish, place it in a bowl add some Soy to it. We got another bowl with some salt and a wedge of lemon. Then he placed a small tray, a paper on the tray and started to deliver Tempura after Tempura. You can look at the pictures to see what we ate.
|Salt & Lemon|
|Grated Radish & Soy|
My God, it was really incredible. Each dish was perfectly fried, greaseless and crunchy. With each dish the Chef instructed us on which seasoning to us - `Salt’ he said sometimes and at other times `Soy’ was his command. The meal was incredible. To get such hot, perfectly prepared food literally straight from the frying pan is a rare pleasure. The meal was exquisite. Once the food was over we got some rice and Dashi flavoured with Clams. Delicious. We were ecstatic, who does not like fried food? This was in a league I have never eaten. Then we thanked the Chef and left to another room where our dessert was served. A Mango for me and Watermelon for HRH the Queen of Kutch. Both these were divine. Even the photo looks good.
This was a rare pleasure, a really good meal. Totally simple but what execution.
|Small Shrimp clumped together|