Kyoto Tempura Kaiseki

Kyoto Tempura Kaiseki


A few years ago I got a glimpse at the high art of tempura cooking while visiting Kyoto at an elegant restaurant called Tenyu, and I never forgot it. (See this blog post, too.) Mrs. Sachiyo Imai introduced me. Besides being Miss Kyoto in 1953 and a master of the Japanese classic arts (plus a mean piano player), Mrs. Imai is a noted Kyoto food scholar, author, and television and radio host, and an all-around amazing person (read about her in the 2008 Saveur 100, and my post). Now that I'm back in Kyoto, Mrs. Imai and I headed to Tenyu again, along with a friend named Nemo, who was kind enough to translate.

The tiny restaurant has a only a U-shaped dining counter, with the chef working in the center. I watched the chef add oil to a specialized tempura pot, which he explained is made from copper and steel. He uses only cottonseed oil, which I found surprising. I've read that tempura chef often use a combination of oils, including sesame oil, to impart flavor to ingredients. "This is Kyoto style," he answered, explaining that he aims for a lighter, more delicate kind of tempura. I watched him mix the tempura batter--barely, so not to stretch the glutens in the flour, to keep the tempura crispy rather than chewy. The chef serves tempura in courses, one ingredient at a time. He started with shrimp, cooking it seconds and serving himself. We ate it with salt and sansho. The shrimp was delicate, tender and sashimi inside, encased in a crispy, light crust. Mrs. Imai pointed to the paper lining my plate. "No oil," she said. She was right. For an ingredient that was just deep fried, there no oil dripping off. The chef explained that he adjusts the batter to match the moisture of each ingredient, and switches tempura pots during cooking to keep the oil clean. We also tasted asparagus, kisu, a type of whiting, hamo eel, Kamo eggplant and Fushimi togarashi, a local pepper. Incredible. What amazed me, too, is how hot the ingredients became inside, even though they were so quickly deep fried--and just perfectly cooked through. Check out the photos and video. (Tenyu, telephone (075) 212-7778, Gokomachi Sanjo Sagaru)

Posted by Harris Salat in Kyoto | Permalink | Comments (7) | Email | Print

Comments (7)

Two points I being the stark nakedness and therefore cleanliness of the restaurant which is refreshing and somehow much more serene and enticing...the next being how the chef serves the food by placing it directly onto a rack and serving from there. No wonder the residual oil is almost non-existent; I love going to restaurants where you must wait and watch like the way sushi bars used to be back in 'the day'. Now they prepare for u and serve all the pieces at once and somehow it loses the effect and the taste whereas once upon a time at a really good sushi bar, the chef served each piece of sushi once it was made: from chef to eater. Those days are gone now.
so, are you going to do a tempura cookbook next? :)
I was in Kyoto this past April and that tempura-ya looks almost identical in layout to Yoshikawa Tempura that I went to off of Oike. It sounds like I had a similar experience with the lightly battered and procession of food that was fried. Looks wonderful!
Harris, I just got back from Kyoto a few weeks ago! Nice to see photos of Mrs. Imai again. She's so amazing. Thanks for the recommendation. We always stay in that neighborhood, so it's now on the list for next time. On our last night in Kyoto, we tried a great tempura place called Tenshi on Shijo dori upon the recommendation of a friend. There was a tank of live ebi and ayu, and our 13-course dinner included these as well as uni, which was just warm on the inside and the taste, improved. Never had uni tempura before!
Amazing post, as always.I love tempura, I made some last year with fresh shiso leaves from my garden, it was great. It is very fascinating, to see the dedication Japanese cooks prepare food: different tempura batters for different ingredients. Dear Harris,I need your help:do you have an email from korin? I wanted to ask about shipping to Germany, but there is no contact form(or it doesn't work? or I'm blind....I have look everywhere on their website).I can't find any email to ask my questions, few of my readers would be also interested in some items. Thank you very much! I'm rather sure they do ship international, because there is a notice about payment for international orders. "Send a message" doesn't work on korins site- I don't know why.(maybe you could tell them...;-)) PS. I apologize if I just missed it somehow.
Dear harris! Greetings from Shizuoka, japan! Great articles about japanes gastronomy! A lot of people should be thankful for all the information you are providing! Incidemntally, I noticed that you linked to my old website at: Sushi & Sashimi "The Jewels of Japanese Cuisine" (tripod address). I'm afraid this website is a bit of a zombie as i moved to blogging a few years ago! My present sushi blog (same title) can be found at along with other blgs on sake, shochu and other japanese gastronomy! Looking forward to hearing from you soon! Best regards, Robert-Gilles
Hey Robert-Gilles, Thanks for reaching out! Your sushi and sashimi site was tremendous, I learned a ton from it. Thanks that! I look forward to reading your blogs. -- Harris

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