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skchai

Origin of "Tempura"

19 posts in this topic

Miguel, Kristin, or anyone who might know:

Perhaps someone could be kind enough to help in resolving that age-old question of the origin of the word tempura. It is known that technique of deep-frying was acquired by the Japanese from the Portuguese missionaries or traders, and assumed that the term "tempura" originated at the same time, yet how the actual word "tempura" was derived seems to remain uncertain. There are basically two theories that seem at least conceivable:

temporada - time period. This is actually by far the most popular theory, indeed the only theory that is taken seriously, according to what I've read. It is argued that "period" refered to a meatless day (either Friday or Lent), hence the word temporada was transferred to the types of food that were consumed during meatless days, such as fried seafood.

temperado - tempered. I actually find this more plausible (with my very limited knowledge of Portuguese), even though I haven't heard anyone argue for it. The term temperado seems (again, based upon very limited knowledge) to be used throughout much of the Lusophonic region to refer to spiced foods cooked without much water, and it could be argued that in Japan that it was eventually understood to refer to deep-frying.

Any insights? Please correct any errors of mine!


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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I don’ t really know the origin of the word tempura, but one theory seems to be “temperar” or “tempero,” something to do with cooking. The other one is “templo,” temple. The other explanation is “temporas,” the day observed by Catholic priests when they ate no meat. :hmmm:

There is a famous story about tempura in Japanese history, by the way. It has nothing to do with the origin of the word, but it is very interesting story. The first Tokugawa Shogun Ieyasu was known to die from eating too much tempura. In the beginning of 17 century in Tokyo, Tempura was unusual dish. When a chef from Kyoto came to see Ieyasu to serve fish Tempura, which was very popular dish in Kyoto, Ieyasu found the tempura so delicious that he ate too much of it, ignoring the physicians advice. He died several days later in 1616. He was early 70’s at that time of the death.


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I've posted previously about this topic.

According to research that I had done about the Portugese influence into the Japanese regarding Foods.

It seems that there were several Portugese sailors who jumped ship in Okinawa that were experienced Bakers who introduced "Pan" or bread into the marketplace as well as "Tempura" that continued to evolve into the mainstream culture.

The Portugese influence to the foods of the Japanese, Chinese, Malay, Phillipine, Indian, African and other Cultures is far greater then most of us realize.

It was greatly influenced by the so called "Black Ships" that controlled the major distribution of Spices for so many years plus the controlled expertise of the "navigators" provided under contract to the majority of shippers.

Irwin


I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

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here is a very interesting article that explains the most probable sources for the word and a little more about its history in general:

http://www.kikkoman.com/forum/015/ff015.html

I also spent a while searching Japanese sources and they kept coming up with the two same words:

temporas

--from the Portuguese language which all of the sites said meant "seasonings" but when I look it up in a Portuguese-English dictionary there is no such word..

tempora

--which they say is an Italian/Spanish word referring to a specific day when priests ate no meat, however I can't find this word in an Italian dictionary and the article above mentions this same word as being temporas (with an s, and basically the same word as above)

A lot of sources seem to look at Portuguese/Spanish sailors who on fasting days would deep fry some shrimp and thus the beginnings of tempura.

Tempura became a very popular street food during the Edo period at which time it was written all in kanji (Chinese characters) like this:

天婦羅

天 means heavens or the sky

婦 though this character means woman, apparently it was a play on words as another meaning of the word fu (pu) is that of wheat gluten and thus a reference to flour in the batter

羅 means a silk gauze or thin silk netting apparently in reference to the look of the batter on the finished product

the current writing of the word today is

天ぷら


Edited by torakris (log)

<p><strong>Kristin Wagner</strong>, aka "torakris"

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The explanation I am familiar with is that the word is derived from the Latin "Quatuor Tempora" (literally "four days"); sometimes referred to as the "Ember Days." These were times of fasting and abstinence set out in the Church calendar to mark the beginnings of the four seasons.

During these days, red meat was forbidden, and therefore the Portuguese would have favoured fish dishes.

See the Catholic Encyclopedia for more detail.


Fat=flavor

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It remains a mystery, as far as I can see.

"Temperar" means "to season"; "temperado" is "seasoned" and "tempero" is "seasoning". When frying, this means little more than salt and (rarely) pepper. The Portuguese are very sophisticated when salting fish and almost every fish has its own requirements. Certain white fish (like hake) are salted against the grain of the skin, like combing a cat the wrong way - this is called "arrepiado".

Generally, though, most fish will be salted only 15 minutes before frying. This is the traditional method:

1) Fish is (quite heavily) salted.

2) 15 minutes later, the salt is washed off and the fish is towel-dried. Everybody licks the fish to make sure it's salty enough. Then it's dragged through fine flour and vigorously shaken so that only a little flour remains. There's a method of frying fish without flour, called "à pobre" ("poor man's style"), which is also quite popular.

3) The frying process is complex and you have to be a great cook to get it right. Good fryers, who are rare, manage to fry quite enormous whole fishes (like really big Dover soles) so that the skin and outer bones are really (but really!) crispy, while the flesh retains all the flavour of the fish - it's as if it were quickly poached. This amazing contrast is the sign of good fried fished. No taste of oil; no sogginess; no droopiness.

Japanese tempura actually reproduces this contrast. The quickly mixed, lumpy batter is more sophisticated than the Portuguese quick flouring but the result is the same. With good tempura there's the same delicious counterpoint of the crispy surface and the luscious, moist interior.

My guess is that "tempura" comes from "temperar" ("to season") and not from any of the religious meanings. Surely very little read meat was eaten in Japan at that time and the Portuguese, loving fish as much as the Japanese (No.2 and No.1 consumers in the world) would never regard eating fish as something you did when meat wasn't allowed (on Fridays).

Also, I'm sure that the frying method is more central than the actual fish - as the Portuguese love briefly deep-frying green vegetables (specially French beans, lightly coated in egg and flour, which we call "peixinhos da horta", i.e. "little garden fish") and, after the American imports, potatoes and red peppers.

I have to say that nowadays Japanese "tempura" is an art all of its own and it's typical of their politeness to attribute the word to a remote Portuguese influence.

I'll be looking into the question with more depth - but just thought I'd leave some first impressions just to keep the ball rolling.

Mmmm...tempura!

I've tried it - oh, at least 30 times - at home, with all the variations (Perrier and ice) and Japanese oil and flour - but I've never, ever got it remotely right.

Fish I can fry.

So that makes me respect Tempura all the more!

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Many of the Japanese articles I was reading mentioned the Chinese being the biggest influence for deep frying. Aren't batter fried foods more popular in China? I wonder if it was a combination of the two influences......

As to were the word came from we will probably never know, but almost every Japanese source I found ahd the word tempora or temporas, it there a possiblitly these could have been Portuguese words for tempero 500 years ago? Or maybe a word in the dialect the sailors spoke or maybe some kind of pidgin spoken between the sailors of Spainish, Portuguese and Italian descent?

I was just thinking of how different the English language is now as compared to 500 years ago.....


<p><strong>Kristin Wagner</strong>, aka "torakris"

Manager, Membership

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Deepest thanks, everyone, for your replies. The origin of "tempura" is a fascinating question in world food history, and you all have probably moved us closer to answering it in the past couple days than any food historian could.

Thanks also, Kristin, for fixing my malformed subheader!


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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Thanks also, Kristin, for fixing my malformed subheader!

I didn't touch anything.... :blink:

was there something wrong with it?


<p><strong>Kristin Wagner</strong>, aka "torakris"

Manager, Membership

<a class="bbc_email" href="mailto:kwagner@egstaff.org" title="E-mail Link">kwagner@egstaff.org</a></p>

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Kristin:

"Tempero" would be the word in the 16th Century too. Portuguese and Brazilian etymologies all mention "tempero" rather than "tempora". "Tempora" in the religious sense is fairly erudite anyway - it also means "temple" in the forehead sense!

I foundthis exchange on the (apparently fake) Portuguese origin of "arigato" , which also addresses (unsatisfactorily) the etymology of "tempura". On a more gastronomical note, here's a great little Japanese-Brazilian page on Tempura which backs the frying hypothesis.

The article also mentions the very light, airy cake "pão de ló" which I've seen for sale in Lisbon sushi houses as "Castella"(?) cake; boiled sweets and "fios de ovos", a sweet egg dessert separated in strands, a little like linguini, which is extremely popular here.

One must understand that around the time the Portuguese went to Japan they were, to all extents and purposes, the most widely trading country in the world, freely spreading all manner of spices, condiments and sugars, from Brazil, Europe, Africa, India and the Far East (anything, in fact, that could be kept aboard). When settling in a new country, it was only normal that they'd use local methods and cuisine (because that the early Portuguese voyagers were, above all, learners and embracers of everything new and foreign, rather than teachers or colonizers) and add just a touch of this or that to remind them a little of home. One musn't forget that the civilizations they came into contact with in the East were often far, far more advanced (and not only gastronomically) than their own.

The success and lasting influence of the Portuguese is due, in my opinion, to this curiosity and humility, which led them to behave as go-betweens and bridges between cultures - that and a natural willingness and even ability to adapt. Tempura itself is surely a Japanese creation which might have been influenced by something Portuguese. That's more or less true of all the many gastronomic encounters across the world - it's local cuisine which has incorporated an element brought by the Portuguese. Most often this element was brought from one of the many cultures encountered on their voyages - very rarely from Portugal itself.

This light touch is seen in our own present-day cuisine. Although many influences are felt, from all round the world, it is often very subtle - a sure sign it's been deeply incorporated.

Fascinating stuff!

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Thanks also, Kristin, for fixing my malformed subheader!

I didn't touch anything.... :blink:

was there something wrong with it?

I had put strange italics tags around the words "temporada" and "temperado" that didn't work because (apparently) you can't put italics in headers. . .

Some mythical creature must have come along and fixed it. . .


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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Miguel, I don't want to get this off track, but the humility of the Portuguese colonizers was quite limited. We all have to remember that there was an Inquisition going on at the time. For example, when the Portuguese arrived in Malacca in 1511, they announced their intention to wipe out the Infidels (i.e., Muslims), and their rule was so heavy-handed that Malay (Muslim) refugees from Malacca were instrumental in assisting the Dutch in defeating the Portuguese there a few decades later. Similarly, in Goa, the Portuguese planned on wiping out the local Jewish community until local Hindu Rajas assured their protection of that community and got the Portuguese to back down for security reasons. I write these things not out of any animus toward Portugal or Portuguese people today, of course, but only so that we don't skew history too much.

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Fair enough, Pan. But just like we must distinguish between George W.Bush and the (people of) the U.S.A., in matters gastronomic and cultural the policies of the political bosses are almost always different from what actually happens on the ground. And even irrevelant. You can't dictate cooking. We're talking food, are we not?

Though I must say I disagree, historically, with your categorization of the Portuguese navigators. They were a very, very small minority, out to charm or impress, and violence was always a last recourse - in a few cases (i.e. Afonso de Albuquerque) it was tragic. This was, however, an exception. A sense of proportion is required: how could a hundred or so seamen impose their will on vast populations? We Portuguese are very few, even now, and yet our influence has been out of all proportion to our size. This could not have been accomplished by violence. Or violence alone.

Besides, you should come to Portugal - it's the sweetest, least violent country I know! :)

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Miguel, we're indeed talking about food, until you bring in comments about other things. Then, I felt the need to take some issue with them.

Sure, I'd like to visit Portugal some day.

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Agreed again - and point taken - Michael! :)

When you come, I hope you'll stay with us, hear? :)

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Hey! I want to go someplace too!!! :sad:

I have spent some more time going through Japanese pages and they really seem split on the origins, some say just tempero others just tempora (s) and some mention both... I guess no one really knows.

I did run across this interesting page that listed all of the Portuguese words that have made their way into the Japanese language:

http://www.ne.jp/asahi/amato-network/musica/portugal05.htm


<p><strong>Kristin Wagner</strong>, aka "torakris"

Manager, Membership

<a class="bbc_email" href="mailto:kwagner@egstaff.org" title="E-mail Link">kwagner@egstaff.org</a></p>

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I've taken the time to look back upon my notes regarding the Portugese influence into the Japanese Food culture and my information was taken thru translations from Okinawian papers that attributed the introduction of "Pan" and "Tempura" into the Japanese Market thru the fact that the Portugese had the ability of assimulating into various cultures thru marriage and adopting into whatever location they settled into.

The first attempts of baking bread and frying as a business were recorded in Okinawa and spread in to the mainland Japan by sailors who had jumped ship, managed to put together the round bake ovens that became the standard in Japan who sold Bread and introduced Tempura as meaning simply fried in oil into the culture. If i'm not mistaken some of this information is available at the Hawaii/Okinawa Assosciation.

It certainly seems that the Government or Church hasn't had as much influence as the ability to adapt to and marry into the various cultures by the Portugese themselves especially in Africa, Asia and South America. Consider also that the largest ethnic Japanese population in the World outside of Japan lives in Brazil.

One fact that many aren't aware of about the "Navigators" is that all the original Spice Trading Routes, the knowledge of the use of the sextent and double entry bookeeping is that these skills were all attributable to the Portugese Jews who aquired them from within the religion and were only provided to the Dutch and Europeans during the Inquisition by Jews who felt that they wouldn't continue to support the monopoly of the Navigators skills under adverse conditions.

Irwin :unsure::rolleyes:


I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

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Tempura became a very popular street food during the Edo period at which time it was written all in kanji (Chinese characters) like this:

天婦羅

天 means heavens or the sky

婦 though this character means woman, apparently it was a play on words as another meaning of the word fu (pu) is that of wheat gluten and thus a reference to flour in the batter

羅 means a silk gauze or thin silk netting apparently in reference to the look of the batter on the finished product

This theory is mentioned in the book titled Hokuetsu Seppu, written by Bokushi Suzuki, who was born in former Shiozawa town in the Edo period.

gallery_16375_5_61350.jpg

Let me provide some more details.

There was a man who ran away with her lover from Osaka to Edo. One day, he said to Santo Kyoden, "In Edo, there are a lot of peddlers of goma age (foods deep-fried in sesame seed oil). In Osaka, they are called tsuke age, and fish meat tsuke age are tasty. In Edo, there are no one selling fish meat tsuke age at night stalls yet. I think of selling them. What do you think?"

Kyoden agreed with his idea. Then the man asked him to name fish meat goma age. Kyoden thought for a while and then wrote the characters 天麩羅. When asked what that meant, Koyden replied as follows:

You are now a drifter (天竺浪人, tenjiku ronin, literally, master-less samurai from India). You "strolled" (burarito (= furarito) kitarite) into Edo, and you will start selling them. The reason why I used 麩羅 for fura is that 麩 fu (wheat gluten) is made from wheat flour and 羅 ra means something thin.

ten + fura = tenpura. :biggrin:

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