What is Japanese Ten don and its history?

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Japanese tempura is a popular dish worldwide, but there’s another tempura dish that you may NOT have heard of: Ten don.

Ten don is donburi made with tempura. It’s cooked by first frying the tempura, then placing it over freshly steamed rice. Light soy dressing is poured over the top. It’s a relatively new dish, invented in the late 1960s, and it’s currently gaining popularity in Japan. It’s also called “Tendon.” 

In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about Ten don and its beautiful history.

What is ten don

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Deliciously Deep-Fried: All About Tendon (天丼)

What is Tendon?

Tendon (full recipe here) is a bowl of rice topped with pieces of tempura. It’s also known as Tenju when served in a jubako (tiered food box). It’s a shortened version of “Tenpura Donburi” and is considered the top of all donburi varieties.

How is it Made?

The most common way of making Tendon is to top a bowl of rice with a variety of tempura and pour salty-sweet sauce over it. But there are other methods, such as flavoring the tempura instead of pouring sauce on it or just sprinkling a bit of salt over the tempura. The sauce is made by mixing soup stock, soy sauce, sugar and mirin, which is a sweet rice wine used for cooking.

Where Can You Get It?

Tendon is available at tempura specialty restaurants and soba shops. It’s said that Tendon was first served at a restaurant called Sansada in Asakusa, Tokyo in 1838.

What Types of Tendon Are There?

There’s very little restriction on the type of food that can be deep-fried as tempura, including seafood such as shrimp, squid, sea eel and sand borer, which are accompanied by vegetables such as small, deep-fried sweet peppers, pumpkin and sweet potatoes. Tendon is sometimes distinguished by the main ingredient; ebi-tendon is topped with shrimp, and anago-tendon is topped with sea eel. There’s also Shojin Tendon (vegetarian tendon) which is topped with vegetable tempura, and Kakiage-don, which is Tendon topped with kakiage (deep-fried diced shrimp, whitefish and vegetables). Tentama-don (or Tentoji-don) is a bowl of rice topped with tempura flavored with salty-sweet sauce and beaten egg poured over it.

Tendon as Standup-Comic Jargon

In standup comedy acts, when the same thing is repeated twice or more for comic effect, it’s called “Tendon.” It’s said to come from the fact that Tendon is usually topped with two pieces of shrimp.

So if you’re looking for a delicious and unique way to enjoy your rice, why not give Tendon a try? With so many varieties to choose from, you’re sure to find something that you’ll love!

The Fascinating History of Ten don

The Portuguese Connection

Tempura has a long and fascinating history, which starts with its ancestor, the Portuguese dish “Peixinhos da horta” (“Little fishes from the garden”). This dish was brought to Japan by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century.

The Edo Period

In the early 17th century, tempura underwent a remarkable change around the Tokyo Bay area. It was deep-fried in lard with a batter of flour, water, eggs, and salt, and was eaten without dipping sauce. This was the birth of the now-famous “Tokyo style (Edo style)” tempura.

The Meiji Period

After the Meiji period, tempura was no longer considered a fast food item but developed into a high-class cuisine. It was served with a dipping sauce made from grated daikon.

The Origin of the Name

The word “tempura” comes from the Latin word “tempora”, which means “time period”. This was used by Portuguese and Spanish missionaries to refer to the Lenten period or Ember Days. It was also used to refer to Fridays and other Christian holy days, when Catholics avoided red meat and ate fish or vegetables instead.

The Modern Tempura

Today, tempura is a popular dish in Japan and around the world. It is made with flour, eggs, and water, and is deep-fried in oil to give it a crispy texture. It is often served with a dipping sauce and is a great way to enjoy fresh seafood. So the next time you’re in Japan, be sure to try some tempura!

Conclusion

Ten don is such an awesome bowl of Japanese crispy goodness that you REALLY do need to try it, and it has a long and interesting history.

I hope this guide has made you more familiar with the concept and that you’re eager to try it now. You won’t be disappointed!

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:

Read for free

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.