At its crispy, gossamer best, tempura is unlike any other fried food. I remember the first time I ate at one of Tokyo's tempura-ya several years ago. At these specialized tempura shops, the chefs are experts at the technique, in which seafood and vegetables are dipped into a simple batter of flour, water, and egg yolks, then quickly cooked in hot vegetable oil and served piping hot. The deep-fried shrimp I ordered that day were steaming, sweet, and tender, with an airy, remarkably greaseless crust. Extra wisps of crunchy batter clung delectably to each piece. They were accompanied by a soy sauce-and-rice wine dipping sauce that was peppered with fresh, spicy grated ginger and daikon. I savored every bit of that tempura; for an American used to doughy batter-fried foods, it was a revelation.