Tempura Donburi

This Tempura Donburi is loaded with light, crispy shrimp and vegetable tempura. With a side of miso soup, plenty of dipping sauce, and a cup of Japanese Sencha tea, you might forget you’re eating at home!

What Is Donburi?

Donburi in Japanese translates to “bowl,” and is any dish served over rice (and, true to its name, generally in an oversized bowl). It is abbreviated to “don” when added as a suffix to the end of a word.

Examples include Gyudon (beef over rice), Oyakodon (chicken and egg over rice), and Katsudon (fried pork cutlet over rice). Since we’re serving this tempura over rice, the dish is known as tempura donburi, or ten don for short.

Everyday Japanese Food

We pride ourselves on demystifying Chinese cooking, so when we recently picked up Ivan Orkin’s new cookbook, The Gaijin Cookbook: Japanese Recipes from a Chef, Father, Eater, and Lifelong Outsider*, we flipped happily through the easy recipes for classic, home-cooked Japanese favorites (as well as some fusion recipes inspired by his restaurant, Ivan Ramen), along with his personal stories of being a “gaijin,” the Japanese term for foreigner. 

Japanese food is widely viewed as a bit of a luxury—we all like to go out for sushi, a good piece of blackened miso cod, or a big platter of crispy tempura or katsu. But why is this the case?

This book dares us to see that *Japanese food* need not always be a highbrow endeavor (as it can sometimes be viewed stateside), and there are delicious, easy recipes we can all make.

For similar recipes, we love the blog, Just One Cookbook, which does a fantastic job of explaining Japanese ingredients and recreating the dishes we all love but are too intimidated to cook. We’ve also got a few favorites on our blog, like Katsudon, Gyudon (Japanese Beef Rice Bowls), and Sukiyaki (Japanese hot pot). 

Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura, thewoksoflife.comShrimp and Vegetable Tempura, thewoksoflife.com

How to Make Light & Crispy Tempura

Inspired, I decided to make this shrimp and vegetable tempura donburi from The Gaijin Cookbook.

I’ve never made tempura from scratch, but we loved this version. With a little trial and error, we surfaced a few helpful tips for pulling off great tempura:

  • Keep the batter cold! This helps it adhere to whatever you’re frying.
  • Refrigerate the shrimp as soon as you’re done processing them so they don’t turn that light orange room temperature color.
  • In the book, the recipe calls for chopping/grating vegetables and shrimp for a bibimbap-esque approach to tempura donburi. We preferred thinly sliced sweet potato, thickly sliced onion, and super bite-sized pieces of broccoli and oyster mushrooms. And of course, big whole shrimp with the tails left on!
  • Use two pairs of chopsticks or utensils. One to fry with and one to dip with, so you can avoid too much excess batter getting into your fry pot. Use a fine meshed sieve to periodically remove excess sediment from the oil.
  • Don’t fry tempura too long. It takes a very short amount of time to cook the ingredients through, and tempura should never be too brown. 45-90 seconds or so and a couple of flips does the trick for vegetables, and when the shrimp float and are lightly golden and orange, they’re done. 
  • That said, the frying temperature should be high enough that it doesn’t take longer than that to cook, but not so high that the food immediately turns golden when it hits the oil.

Tempura ingredients, thewoksoflife.comTempura ingredients, thewoksoflife.com

Save Money Making Japanese Food at Home

To be honest, part of why I was so excited to make this recipe is because I was recently eating out at a great Japanese restaurant. I hadn’t eaten much all day, and let’s just say that the total of the bill didn’t match that feeling of fullness I was looking for!!! I was *this* close to getting a slice of pizza around the corner for dessert. 

With just a few pantry ingredients (think: Japanese soy sauce, mirin, dashi granules, seaweed, miso paste) you can regularly whip up delicious Japanese food at home for wayyy less money.

Dipping broccoli tempura into sauce, thewoksoflife.comDipping broccoli tempura into sauce, thewoksoflife.com

Another bonus? You get to choose what kinds of vegetables and seafood you fry up. Consider what we’ve made here as just a starting point!

*The Gaijin Cookbook was sent to us free of charge for the purpose of us sharing it and our thoughts with The Woks of Life readers. As always, all opinions are our own.

Tempura Donburi Recipe Instructions

First, prepare the dipping sauce by combining dashi stock, soy sauce, and mirin in a bowl. We took the shortcut of using hondashi granules, but if you want to make dashi with shaved katsuobushi, be our guest! We have detailed instructions in Sarah’s Miso Soup recipe. At this point, you can also cook the rice you’ll serve with the tempura. 

Making tempura dipping sauce with soy sauce, mirin, and dashi, thewoksoflife.comMaking tempura dipping sauce with soy sauce, mirin, and dashi, thewoksoflife.com

Next, prepare the vegetables, making sure everything is washed and trimmed. Make sure the broccoli florets are relatively small, or they won’t cook through by the time the batter is done frying.

Breaking apart broccoli florets, thewoksoflife.comBreaking apart broccoli florets, thewoksoflife.com

We also highly recommend oyster mushrooms, which have a delicious, meaty flavor!

Oyster Mushrooms, thewoksoflife.comOyster Mushrooms, thewoksoflife.com

Nothing should be too wet ahead of frying, so if needed, pat the vegetables with a kitchen towel or let them sit at room temperature to dry off while you prep everything else. 

Score the shrimp with a sharp knife so that they can lay flat (you can do this lightly if you don’t mind them retaining some of their curved shape). Refrigerate the shrimp until you’re ready to fry.

Scoring shrimp to make tempura, thewoksoflife.comScoring shrimp to make tempura, thewoksoflife.com

Shrimp that has been scored to lay flat, thewoksoflife.comShrimp that has been scored to lay flat, thewoksoflife.com

Next, make the batter. Stir together the ice water, cake flour, and egg yolks.

Making tempura batter with cake flour, egg yolks, and water, thewoksoflife.comMaking tempura batter with cake flour, egg yolks, and water, thewoksoflife.com

No need to get rid of all the lumps—in fact, take care not to overmix it. Pop it in the refrigerator while you heat the frying oil.

Stirring tempura batter, thewoksoflife.comStirring tempura batter, thewoksoflife.com

In a small deep pot, heat enough oil to fill it about halfway, over medium-high heat. While that’s happening, set up a wire rack over a sheet pan or a platter lined with paper towels. When a drop of the batter sizzles vigorously but doesn’t brown too quickly, you’re ready to go.

To fry, swirl one piece of vegetable or shrimp in the batter (for the shrimp, hold it by the tail), and lower it gently into the batter.

Dipping broccoli into tempura batter, thewoksoflife.comDipping broccoli into tempura batter, thewoksoflife.com

Dipping shrimp into tempura batter, thewoksoflife.comDipping shrimp into tempura batter, thewoksoflife.com

Fry everything in batches of 3-4 items for 45-90 seconds, turning each item 3-4 times.

Frying tempura in oil, thewoksoflife.comFrying tempura in oil, thewoksoflife.com

When the vegetables are lightly golden and the shrimp are lightly golden, orange, and floating, it’s ready to be transferred to the wire rack. 

Transferring fried tempura to wire rack, thewoksoflife.comTransferring fried tempura to wire rack, thewoksoflife.com

Adjust the heat as needed between batches as you add cold food to the oil. The oil should be hot enough that it doesn’t take too long to cook the tempura, but not so hot that the food immediately turns golden when it hits the oil.

Fried Japanese tempura, thewoksoflife.comFried Japanese tempura, thewoksoflife.com

Sweet potato tempura on wire rack, thewoksoflife.comSweet potato tempura on wire rack, thewoksoflife.com

To assemble the tempura donburi bowls, spoon a base of steamed rice into each bowl. Top with with vegetables and a few shrimp per bowl. Serve with the dipping sauce, grated daikon (optional), and perhaps a bowl of miso soup! 

Shrimp & Vegetable Tempura Donburi, thewoksoflife.comShrimp & Vegetable Tempura Donburi, thewoksoflife.com

Tempura Donburi, thewoksoflife.comTempura Donburi, thewoksoflife.com

Dipping shrimp tempura into dipping sauce, thewoksoflife.comDipping shrimp tempura into dipping sauce, thewoksoflife.com


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