The Curious Origins of Tempura

Who doesn’t love tempura? The Japanese sure do. Americans do. Korea has also embraced this fried favorite in a big way. At our Seattle Korean Restaurant, you can enjoy this classic with either vegetables or seafood. But what is the story behind this dish, exactly? The answer might surprise you.

Anyone familiar with the Japanese language may have noticed that there’s something unusual about the word “tempura”. After all, the syllable “tem-” cannot be properly written in the Japanese alphabet. This is because “tempura” is actually not a native Japanese word.

Tempura was actually brought to Japan in the seventeen hundreds, when missionaries from Portugal and Spain arrived in the country. Though the specific facts are obscured in history, it is thought that the name was derived from the Portuguese word “tempero”, which translates to “condiment” or “seasoning”. You can actually find a dish similar to the Japanese tempura in Portugal to this day, where it can be found under the name peixinhos da horta.