Tempura in America and tempura in Japan are two very different creatures. In America, you’ll find tempura garnishing bowls of udon, as an appetizer of vegetables or shrimp, and bastardized into popcorn shrimp bites served with a creamy, Sriracha-esque dipping sauce. For the most part, tempura in the US is little more than a soggy afterthought—a fried snack in the middle of an otherwise sushi heavy menu.
In Japan, tempura is the meal. Whole restaurants are dedicated to the beautifully crisp, golden bites, traditionally served omakase style alongside a counter bar so you can watch the master work and eat your tempura the moment it comes out of the sizzling oil.