January 7 – Tempura Day

I have a confession to make. Although I grew up in one of the greatest cities in the world for ethnically-diverse food, I hadn’t gotten into Japanese food until high school, when I joined the anime club and my wonderfully weeaboo group of friends introduced me to the bento box. And even then I usually just had sushi or chicken teriyaki (the pork fried rice of Japanese cuisine!). The biggest embarrassment, however, is the first time I ever had vegetable tempura, it was in….a barbecue joint. *dodges rotten veggies thrown at head* I hadn’t heard of tempura before eating at Dallas BBQ in Times Square before a play, but decided among the piles of cornbread and barbecued ribs I loved it. And anyone that tries the genuine article–Japanese tempura, not Texan–falls equally in love.

Real connoisseurs claim that authentic Japanese tempura is difficult to find outside of the country itself, and that rarely a restaurant that specializes in another form of food–sushi, or yakisoba–will make a decent tempura. I think this is more conjecture than anything, much like how New Yorkers attest that the city’s water is the reason bagels are inferior anywhere else on the planet. (Though we’re right on that one.) With a little bit of city pride behind me, I say you have to be able to get good tempura here–especially if you look in the right places.

Tempura can be made of either fish or vegetables, or even both. Naka Naka in Chelsea makes a wonderful Kisu Tempura–a small white fish deep fried to perfection. Instead of the usual tempura dipping sauce, Kisu Tempura is served with green tea-infused salt. The dish is described as delicate yet flavorful–exactly what you look for in top-notch Japanese cuisine.

Naka Naka
458 W 17th St (between 9th Ave & 10th Ave)
http://www.nakanakany.com

Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“All dishes we tasted were outstanding, but I recall two exceptionally sublime offerings (both from the chaulk-board specials menu): The most delicate Kisu (small white fish) Tempura served with green tea-infused salt (instead of the usual tempura dip sauce), and succulent fresh squid strips topped with fresh uni. They were very different, but both just melted in your mouth. Like…nay, better than butter. Way better. If your mouth can experience ecstasy, I think that was it.”–Bon K.

“The white fish tempura was so delicate and yummy.”–Alessia G.

 

If you’re looking to head to the vegetable tempura route, try out Onya. Their selection of vegetables for tempura change every day based on availability, which means they’re always at their freshest when they’re going into the deep fry. They serve their vegetable tempura either as a la carte side dishes or within a vegetable tempura udon–special width noodles in broth.

Onya
143 E 47th St (between Lexington Ave & 3rd Ave)
No website

Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I ordered vegetable tempura udon, and it came with the fresh noodles in broth on one side, and the tempura vegetables (and a few bits of seafood) arranged in a giant towering bird’s nest on the other. They went to great lengths to ensure that the tempura would stay crispy, suspending it over a plate using a wire grate. It was fantastic. I only ordered a half portion, but was still utterly defeated by the dish (though admittedly I had loaded up on appetizers. How could I not?)”–Rufus T.F.

“They also have a tempura bar were you can get 2 pieces of tempura for $3. I personally can never say no to the fried pumpkin but there’s tons of different choices, including shrimp, vegetables, even fried boiled egg.”–Shelley Y.

 

And, what would a national food holiday be without something a little sweet for the palate? 😀 (Actually that will be in about ten days with Hot Pastrami Day. Yeeeeeah, can’t make that into a dessert, lol.) Although some foodies consider tempura ice cream (ice cream dipped in tempura batter and quickly deep fried, so as not to melt the ice cream inside) to be a dated and kitschy confection, I still enjoy the mix of flavors and textures it provides–the slightly salty, hot tempura mixed with the cold, sweet ice cream. Check out Ki Sushi in Brooklyn for some great tempura-battered ice cream. It comes in either green tea or vanilla flavors, and is the “real deal” when handling the dessert–you get authentic tempura style in a package traditional Japanese chefs never thought to see.

Ki Sushi
122 Smith St (between Dean St & Pacific St), Cobble Hill
http://www.ki-sushi.com

Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“For dessert we got the tempura ice cream with green tea ice cream. In Toronto, their version of tempura ice cream consists of an ice cream scoop with tempura bit crumbled on top. Ki Sushi puts Toronto sushi desserts to shame…. The ice cream was phenomenal. It was actually, well, tempura ice cream! It was amazing.”–Krista I.

“The tempura fried ice cream however was delectable. Perfectly fried tempura on the outside with green tea or vanilla ice cream in the inside, coupled with a side of caramel.”–Stacy T.

There are just so many ways to make a great tempura–and so many places to get it in the city! Where is your favorite place for tempura fish, or vegetables, or even ice cream? Let us know about it!

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