Making authentic vegetable tempura – the Wabi-sabi way

Authentic vegetable tempura

Canon 600D, ISO 3200, 1/400 sec, f/2.8, 24-70mm

“WABI-SABI is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and accepting the natural cycle of growth and decay. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.” ~ Wabi-sabi: The Art of Imperfection.

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese term that has no direct English translation. It is a concept, an ideal, a philosophy, an art. Try asking a Japanese about ‘wabi-sabi’ and they would know instantly what it is but would also tell you that it is difficult to explain. Not that I asked my Japanese friend Mari to explain what ‘wabi-sabi’ is (She knows it is about Japanese art, which is right too.) I asked her more about how to cook tempura the right way. But I’ll get to that later. This blog is, after all, a food photography blog.

I picked up the wabi-sabi wisdom from my pottery class instructor. I told her I wanted to make imperfect and odd-shaped props for food photography. She explained the concept of Wabi-sabi and that got me thinking about how it can also be applied to food, photography and everyday life. It is about appreciating things that are simple and unpretentious. It is about embracing happy accidents. It strikes a chord with me. My American boyfriend will agree. I want to learn more about wabi-sabi.

Back to my friend Mari, she was both sympathetic and amused when I told her about the unfortunate result of last week’s experiment. Her mother guessed correctly that I must have used beer instead of water. She said that was the reason why I got soggy tempura. Mari gamely offered to help me cook this last weekend (thank you!) and off to the Sunday market we went that morning! She brought a bag of Korean (not Japanese) tempura flour for us to use.

Mari is making tempura batter.

Canon 600D, ISO 200, 1/20 sec, f/3.5, 24-70mm

Mari made sure we were doing it the right way by calling her mom first. “No, the vegetables don’t need to be microwaved.”  “Yes, add one egg.”

Sliced eggplant and kumara (sweet potato)

Canon 600D, ISO 3200, 1/100 sec, f/4, 24-70mm

An hour or so and an enlightened tempura-cook-Mari and a happy-snapping-Dolly later, we got to enjoy the result of our labour of love for cooking.

A proud Mari serving the perfect tempura.

Canon 600D, ISO 800, 1/30 sec, f/4, 24-70mm

Mari’s tempura didn’t need a dipping sauce to be enjoyed but I made one anyway. I love vinegar in anything that is crispy and based on Mari’s reaction when I served it, she loved it too! The crispy onion with vegetables is a revelation. And of course, the sweet potato (kumara in Kiwi language) is an instant favourite!

What's left of the tempura.

Canon 600D, ISO 3200, 1/400 sec, f/2.8, 24-70mm

Vegetable tempura

Canon 600D, ISO 3200, 1/250 sec, f/3.5, 24-70mm

Vegetable tempura with rice vinegar and chili dipping sauce ~ Recipe here


About Dolly Rubiano

I am passionate about photography and food is my favourite subject. I like shooting people too, especially when they’re not looking. I am a regular contributor as photographer to FishHead magazine, a local lifestyle magazine in Wellington, New Zealand. I blog about my experiments in the kitchen and don't cook anything that has four legs. Please get in touch if you would like to work with me regarding food styling and photography. View all posts by Dolly Rubiano

8 responses to “Making authentic vegetable tempura – the Wabi-sabi way

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