To the rest of the world, tempura is a Japanese dish of seafoods, meat or vegetables that is battered and deep fried. To Cebu and in some parts of the Philippines, tempura is a street food made of dough and drenched in oil. To differentiate, the locals call original tempura the ‘Japanese tempura’ and the street food, well, simply ‘tempura’.
You can find tempura stands in most of Cebu’s streets. I’m saying most, because posh areas and commercial areas probably won’t allow tempura vendors to set up their stalls.
Tempura is usually cooked in front of you, so yes, you do have a choice. Choose the tempura which is puffy. If the tempura seems small, then it may be undercooked or even overcooked. If you are new to this, you can ask the vendor to poke the bamboo stick into the tempura/s of your choice. That is your safest bet if you don’t want oil splattered on your shirt. But if you are used to eating tempura, then you can just take the stick and choose your own tempura pieces.
You will then have to dip the tempura into a sauce of your choice. One is hot (yes, with chilli) and the other is sweet. Some people dip in both sauces. I prefer the hot sauce. After dipping, the sauces will naturally drip so do watch your feet or get some tissue ready. Note: Vendors DON’T have tissues for you.
Do not dip your tempura into the sauce once you have taken a bite. That’s just disgusting and it might transfer your germs to others who will dip into that sauce. Imagine if everyone would dip into the sauce more than once. Imagine the spread of diseases.
If you want, you can ask the vendor to slice your tempura and even ask for a paper plate. That is, if they have paper plates. I suggest you eat from the stick though as that is the real tempura experience.
Now wasn’t that delicious? Yes, it has very little nutritional value, but it still keeps you from being hungry somehow.
Tempura vendors also have other treats such as fishball or squid balls. Make sure you try them too.