The kebab. It’s the pride of Turkey, and it’s the pride of Greece. The origins are vague, and this has allowed both countries to claim to be its cultural custodians. And, while the countries haven’t gone to war over the kebab, the issue is far from being solved.
Now, if we substitute the word tempura for kebab, and Japan and Portugal for Turkey and Greece, we find ourselves in similarly culturally sensitive territory. But, it’s here where similarities end, because Portuguese and Japanese diplomats will be sitting down this week to create an historic Agreement on the Degree of Cultural Importance of Tempura in Portugal and Japan. Rumors that a delegation of Melbourne fish & chip shop owners were eager to participate in the talks have so far been denied by all parties.
The tone of the talks will largely depend on the opening remarks given by both sides but, while everyone seems eager to engage in a spirit of cooperation, friction doesn’t seem far away. “They should know that we are above corruption,” said one Portuguese delegate. “Seriously. Don’t smirk. We can’t be bought off with a couple of evenings of booze and rub ‘n’ tugs, which is apparently how they got custodianship of Genghis Khan BBQ from the Mongolians.
“One of our Japanese counterparts said that Japanese people take extra care when they eat tempura. When I pressed for a concrete example of that, he told me that it was because they ate with chopsticks. That was what it came down to; eating with chopsticks. Come on! Would that hold up in a court of law?”
“These people in the far east are cheeky as hell,” said another delegate wearing garish epaulettes. “The Philippines tries to claim adobo as their own dish. All they’ve done is add soy sauce. Wow! Big change! And this is when every former Spanish colony has tweaked it one way or other. You can’t claim a dish as your own just by adding a different sauce. In this case with tempura, it should be acknowledged that Portugal is the birthplace.
“You can’t change that! Japanese people are trying to support their claim by saying that it’s been 500 years (since the dish was introduced). What does that mean!? In 2300 will the USA be able to claim spaghetti as their own? Will the Australians be able call their sparkling wine Champagne again? The answer to these questions, my friend, is no. As you can see, this is an issue that’s going to have repercussions for everyone in the future.”
The shots across the bow aren’t coming from one direction either, with a Japanese participant asserting that the dish is now Japanese. “The Portuguese have suggested that we should change the name to something else, but I think our pronunciation has allowed the word to take on a sophisticated air,” said an middle-aged man with obviously dyed black hair.
Another old guy with a permanent creepy smirk explained that, “When we talk about tempura, we say the word with the feel of a farmer’s beautiful daughter slowly walking through a field of wheat as her dress brushes softly against the stalks. Oh, and did I mention that we are very proud of our tempura? That fact alone should count for everything.”