One of Japan’s most famous dishes: tempura. If you thought the addition of fried food in traditional Japanese cuisine to be odd, that’s because the crispy creation is actually of Catholic, Lenten origin.
It might surprise you to learn that the one of the most iconic Japanese foods isn’t really Japanese at all – its Portuguese. In 1543, a Chinese ship with three Jesuit missionaries from Portugal were headed to Macau, but bad weather conditions blew them off course to the Japanese island of Tanegashima. These three are considered some of the first Europeans to ever set foot in Japan.
In the years following, hundreds more Portuguese Jesuit missionaries came to Japan in their wake. With them, they brought their observance of the Lenten fast and a recipe: peixinhos da horta, “garden fishes” a traditional dish of Portuguese cuisine of fried green beans.
The missionaries would eat the dish on Ember Days ad tempora quadragesima, “during the time of Lent.” When the Japanese adopted the dish and added the varied array of Seafood available to them, they also adopted the name from the Latin tempora used to refer to the Lenten time period.
The cultural exchange continued for nearly a hundred years until their banishment in 1643, when increasing religious persecution led to Catholics being declared a danger to Japanese society. Poetic tempura justice was had when Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, who started the persecution of Catholics, died from over-eating tempura.