Tempura has become an iconic Japanese dish, though its roots extend back to the Portuguese explorers and merchants who started visiting Japan in the 16th century. The primary recipe for tempura extends back to the 17th century and has remained largely unchanged. It became a popular item in food-carts and today, there are tempura-ya, tempura shops, that specialize in tempura. Seafood and vegetables are the most common tempura items, though nowadays you can find plenty of other options as well.
I love tempura, from Shrimp to Sweet Potato, and when dining at a Japanese restaurant, I often use it as a benchmark to help determine the skill of the kitchen. The essence of tempura is its light, airy and crispy batter. It is so easy to know if you are eating tempura or something merely fried. If your shrimp has a heavy and thick batter, it is not really tempura and more just fried shrimp. So it shouldn't be called Tempura on your menu.
Last week, while dining at a relatively new Japanese restaurant, I ordered the shrimp tempura. The dish was an ample portion of shrimp, without any vegetables, but it wasn't tempura. The coating was heavy and thick, more soft than crunchy. It was fried shrimp but certainly not that light and airy tempura coating I desired. Why doesn't the restaurant realize their mistake, that they are not actually serving a proper tempura? It's not rocket science to know the difference.
I've seen this before at other Japanese restaurants. About four years ago, I informed one of those Japanese restaurants that their tempura was too heavy and thick. Three years later, the tempura hadn't changed and I informed them once again of the issue. This time, they actually did something about it, realizing the recipe they were using was incorrect. Their Tempura became an actual Tempura.
Restaurants, if you're going to list Tempura on your menu, then you better ensure it is a proper tempura, with its light, airy and crunchy coating. That is what people desire when they order tempura. Otherwise, they would order something like Fried Shrimp. It is simple to determine if you are serving tempura or not. So step up your game and give customers what they want.