You may know what gyoza are, but for the record, they are Japanese crescent-shaped dumplings stuffed with meat or seafood and veggies.
They can be boiled, steamed, fried, or served as part of a soup dish. They are typically served with a mix-it-yourself blend of soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil, also known as rayu. This dipping sauce has a very distinct flavor and is designed to awaken the umami in your palate.
Umami is a Japanese word that means “a pleasant savory taste” and is core to its cuisine. It is one of the five basic tastes, in addition to sweet, bitter, salty, and sour.
From a scientific perspective, umami compounds are typically found in high-protein foods. Examples of high-umami foods are: meats, seafoods, seaweeds, soy-based foods, kimchi, green tea, tomatoes, and aged cheeses.
To make his family’s traditional gyoza, Chef Chang uses a mixture of pork, napa cabbage, and scallions.
On his own, he experiments with many other flavors, such as shrimp, seafood, and American style flavors like BBQ pork. He tailors the sauce to the flavors in the different gyoza he creates from scratch.
Chef Chang’s traditional gyoza recipe involves emulsifying the pork. “This looks like Freddie Kruger’s face!,” Chang humorously exclaimed. That’s how he describes the emulsified pork mixture that goes into the gyoza he makes.
Emulsification is the process of grinding the pork (or other meat) to a smooth paste. It is labor intensive, says Chef Chang, and one of the most challenging aspects of making gyoza.
The other time-consuming part is making the skins or wrappers, which contain flour, water, oil, and salt. However, you can buy the skins in Asian specialty stores to save time and effort. The skins come in a variety of sizes. The 4-inch round size is the most popular one available for purchase.
Gyoza can be made ahead of time, and they freeze beautifully.
Gyoza: The Chinese Dumplings that Migrated to Japan
The history and true origins of gyoza are not entirely known. There are a few different theories, but the most popular one is that gyoza were created by a revered Chinese doctor, Zhang Zhongjing.
Zhang Zhongjing lived towards the end of the Han Dynasty circa 200 AD. He is known as the Father of Chinese Medicine.
During that time, the common people were extremely poor and often didn’t have adequate food, clothing, or medicine. Many of them developed frostbite on their ears in the winter.
Zhongjing used dumplings to treat frostbitten ears of the Chinese people during the harsh winters. He believed that those who suffered from frostbitten ears were malnourished.
He made the dumplings ear-shaped and filled them with a mixture of ground lamb, pepper, and various herbs. Then he boiled them in a soup and served them to his patients. Zhang’s treatment is said to have worked exceptionally well and it became widely used as a cure for frostbitten ears.
Today in China it is still popular to say that if you don’t eat dumplings on the winter solstice, you’ll get frostbitten ears.
Gyoza is also thought to bring wealth and prosperity to those who serve them. The round shape of gyoza is reminiscent of yuan bao silver or gold ingots, which were used as currency in ancient China.
A Generational Recipe Finds a New Home
Chef Chang comes from a family who has been making gyoza for over 100 years. His grandfather Yoso was originally from China and migrated to Japan in the 1930s. He brought his family’s prized dumpling recipe to Tokyo. There he met and married his wife Chiyo and had three sons: Tadashi, Howard, and Hajime.
Eventually, Yoso saved up enough money to purchase his first restaurant called Ginza Tenryu in 1949. It is located in the Ginza district of Tokyo.
This is how Ginza Tenryu looks today. Chef Chang’s Uncle Tadashi (and Yoso’s oldest son) now owns Ginza Tenryu, as well as two other similar restaurants in Tokyo and one in Nagoya.
The Ginza district is made up of high-end shops, restaurants, theaters. It is one of the best-known shopping districts in the world. Ginza was Tokyo’s original Western-style shopping area and is still where the old money shops. The name Ginza is associated with established wealth, powerful business people, and ornate department stores.
Ginza Tenryu is a one-minute walk from the Ginza1-chome train station, which is a major subway stop in the city.
During his childhood years, Miguel often went to Tokyo with his father Howard, mother Yolanda, and sister Natalie to visit his father’s side of the family. He would look forward to going to his family’s restaurant, Ginza Tenryu, almost every day during his visit to enjoy gyoza and other specialty dishes there.
Ginza Tenryu: A Gyoza Institution
Ginza Tenryu is known for serving delicious, extra-large gyoza. These gyoza are served for both dine-in and takeout and are the #1-selling item on their extensive menu.
As a young adult who developed a passion for cooking, Miguel was eager to recreate his family’s famous gyoza recipe in the U.S. So, he called on his Uncle Hajime (Tadashi’s brother) who lives in Southern California to teach him how to make the famous gyoza served at his family’s eateries in Japan.
After tasting them, we know why! These gyoza are meticulously prepared — so the refined texture and the way they are cooked to perfection are a pleasure to eat. These giant-sized dumplings are bursting with flavors of pork, garlic, ginger, scallions, and Napa cabbage, all enrobed in a made-from-scratch wrapper.
What makes Ginza Tenryu’s gyoza unique is the quality of the ingredients and the extra-large size.
Since Miguel learned how to make traditional gyoza from his Uncle Hajime, he has been experimenting with preparing gyoza of all different sizes, fillings, and dipping sauces.
Below is a weekday menu from Ginza Tenryu’s original location in Tokyo. They have a wide variety of authentic Chinese dishes centered on Beijing cuisine. The menus from each of the other stores are different, but they all have mouthwatering gyoza readily available.
Photo: Ginza Tenryu Menu
Image Credit: Tenryu Ginza Japan
Gyoza vs. Wontons
Gyoza wrappers were adapted by the Japanese from China. They have a round shape and are thinner than those of wontons, which are typically square shaped and come from Northern China.
During World War II, Japanese soldiers were in Northeast China. There they discovered jiaozi or Chinese dumplings. They enjoyed the dumplings so much and wanted to recreate them when they returned to their home country. As with most foods that come to a new region, jiaozi were adapted once they were introduced in Japan to what gyoza are today.
This handy comparison chart below details the major differences between Wonton and Gyoza Wrappers. The main difference is that wontons have a thicker wrapper than gyoza and are generally larger in size.
Both types of dumplings originated in Northern China, but gyoza were brought to Japan at the turn of the last century. The Japanese then adapted them to their own version that is popular today. The gyoza filling is also more refined than that of its other dumpling counterparts.
Enjoy Gyoza Several Delicious Ways
There are four main types of gyoza served in Japan. We highlight them here.
The most common type by far is Yaki-Gyoza. These are the ones that are served at Ginza Tenryu. They are pan fried and then steamed with a mixture of cornstarch and water. This makes the gyoza crispy on the outside. Yaki-gyoza have a tender chew and a juicy cooked filling.
Age-Gyoza are similar to Yaki-Gyoza because they are both crispy dumplings. However, with Age-Gyoza, they are deep fried rather than steamed. These are typically found more in Chinese restaurants vs. made at home.
Mushi-Gyoza are cooked in a bamboo steamer and not fried. Therefore, they are much healthier than Age-Gyoza or Yaki-Gyoza. They tend to be softer and chewier than gyoza prepared in the other various cooking methods.
Sui-Gyoza are more popular in the winter months. They are gyoza that are boiled in a soup or broth with many different vegetables. These are definitely a healthier alternative to Yaki and Age-Gyoza.
Gyoza are often served with white rice or along with a steaming bowl of ramen in Asian restaurants. They are also a popular late-night snack in izakaya or casual dining establishments. They generally cost in the range of 300-600 yen per serving ($2.30-$4.65 in U.S. currently).
Gyoza: A Labor of Love That Bonds Generations
Making gyoza from scratch takes time, effort, and patience. The result is having delicious dumplings to enjoy, but there’s so much more than this.
At Publicmarket.com, we believe food is culture, and the familial bond passed on by generations of these gyoza makers is enduring, rare, and priceless.
It’s an honor to bring you these fascinating stories about this generational rediscovery and appreciation of the food experience.
Watch Chef Chang Prepare his Family’s 100-year-old Gyoza recipe here.
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