What kind of flair does Singaporean tempura have? Let’s find out!

Did you know that much of the food we know and love has taken a long journey across the world and across history to become what it is today? Curry, for example, was brought to Japan from India through England, after which it was adapted into Japanese curry. Funnily enough, popular Japanese curry chain CoCo Ichibanya now has a branch in both England and India, resulting in an interesting cycle of importation and exportation, as well as, of course, a delightful array of curry types.

Now the cycle is happening with tempura, too! Tempura is known as a quintessential Japanese dish, but it was actually brought to Japan by Portuguese traders in the 16th and 17th centuries, in the form of a battered and fried green bean dish called peixinhos da horta. More recently, tempura was also brought to Singapore, where it has been further adapted to suit Singaporean tastes, and now that new version has made its way back to Japan!

What does Singaporean tempura taste like? How does it compare to Japanese tempura? Of course, we had to try it to find out.

You can find Singaporean tempura bowls in Tokyo at a newly opened restaurant known as Tendon Kohaku, which opened on March 29 on the first floor of the Coredo Muromachi Terrace shopping center in Nihonbashi. It’s actually a highly popular tempura bowl chain restaurant in Singapore, though on the outside it looks like any regular tempura shop that you’d find in Japan.

The menu revealed that the restaurant also has branches in Malaysia, the Philippines, and even Canada, as well as Singapore, so it had clearly established itself long before opening its first branch in Japan. Since the restaurant originated in Singapore, however, we expected the tempura to have a Singaporean flair when we arrived at the Nihonbashi branch, and we were right–to an extent.

When ordering from Tendon Kohaku, you have a choice between two different sauces: “Original Sauce” and “Spicy Sauce”. We were most intrigued with the spicy sauce, since Japanese tempura is generally served with a salty-sweet sauce, which is never spicy. We ordered the restaurant’s specialty bowl, the “Kohaku Tendon” (1,000 yen [US$9.25]), with the spicy sauce to get the full Tendon Kohaku experience….

…And it turned out to be super spicy!!

Every bite of the tempura was a fresh fiery burn on our tongues. Some might not like this level of spice, which has a distinct Southeast Asian aspect, but for us it was really tasty.

The quality of the tempura was also really good. The batter on the shrimp was light but satisfyingly crunchy, and the chicken was tender inside its crunchy exterior. The batter also clung to each ingredient, with no peeling or sogginess, making it well worth the cost of 1,000 yen. We gave the original sauce a try too, and its flavor was similar enough to Japanese flavors that you would never know it was created in another country. It tasted like a high-quality Japanese tempura bowl.

But why are the flavors of Kohaku’s tempura bowls so close to Japanese flavors? As we have seen with Japanese dishes in other countries, like sushi and ramen, there’s often something non-traditional about them that makes them unique. But Tendon Kohaku’s tempura bowl tastes like a Japanese dish. Why is that?

One reason could be in the restaurant’s origins. Tendon Kohaku is actually affiliated with Fuji Soba, a Japanese soba restaurant. Fuji Soba provided support for the development Tendon Kohaku when it opened in Singapore. To get more information, we spoke to Mr. Kudo, who works for the marketing department of Fuji Soba, and who helped with the beginnings of Tendon Kohaku.

“Tempura bowls are widely popular in Singapore right now. Spicy sauces like chili sauce are a cultural foundation there, so adding spicy sauce to tempura bowls makes it very popular. By the way, Kohaku’s tempura bowl sauce is basically spicy red peppers mixed with tempura sauce.”

So there you have it; the closeness of flavor is because it was developed with the help of Japanese chefs, then catered to Singaporean tastes. That’s also why it’s become so popular in Singapore! Tempura bowls are a surprisingly adaptable food. Who would’ve thought?

From Portugal, to Japan, to Singapore and back to Japan: tempura sure has taken a long journey to become what it is now. Where will it go next, and how will be transformed? We can’t wait to find out.

Restaurant information:
Tendon Kohaku Coredo Muromachi Terrace / 天丼 琥珀 コレド室町テラス
Address: Tokyo-to Chuo-ku Nihonbashi Muromachi 3-2-1 Coredo Muromachi Terrace Section 1-13
東京都中央区日本橋室町3-2-1 コレド室町テラス1‐13区画
Open 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-8 p.m. (weekdays), 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (weekends, holidays)

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