Gyoza ‘餃子’ dumplings

Gyoza are Japanese dumplings that are popular both in Japan and internationally. They are typically filled with a mixture of ground meat (usually pork), cabbage, garlic, ginger, and green onions, all encased in a thin dough wrapper. Gyoza can be cooked in various ways: pan-fried to give them a crispy bottom (known as yaki-gyoza), boiled (sui-gyoza), or deep-fried (age-gyoza). They are often served with a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, vinegar, and sometimes chili oil. Gyoza are similar to Chinese jiaozi, from which they were originally adapted.

The history of gyoza dates back to ancient China, where they are known as “jiaozi.” The origins of jiaozi can be traced to the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), where they were traditionally enjoyed as a winter food and for the Chinese New Year.

Gyoza was introduced to Japan in the early 20th century by Japanese soldiers returning from China after World War II. These soldiers brought back their fondness for the Chinese dumplings, and the dish quickly gained popularity in Japan. Over time, the Japanese adapted the recipe to suit local tastes, resulting in thinner wrappers and a different filling ratio compared to the original Chinese version.

The term “gyoza” itself is derived from the Chinese word “jiaozi.” The most popular preparation in Japan is yaki-gyoza, which involves pan-frying the dumplings to give them a crispy bottom while keeping the tops tender and steamed. Gyoza has since become a staple in Japanese cuisine, enjoyed both at home and in restaurants, and it remains a beloved dish both in Japan and around the world.

Gyoza offer a delightful blend of flavors and textures. The taste can vary slightly depending on the filling and preparation method, but here is a general description:

  1. Flavor: Gyoza have a savory and slightly sweet taste. The filling typically features a well-seasoned mixture of ground meat (usually pork), cabbage, garlic, ginger, and green onions. The combination of these ingredients creates a balanced umami flavor with a hint of sweetness from the cabbage and a subtle kick from the garlic and ginger.

  2. Texture: When pan-fried, gyoza have a crispy, golden-brown bottom and a soft, tender top. This contrast in textures makes each bite interesting and satisfying. Boiled gyoza, on the other hand, are entirely soft and tender, while deep-fried gyoza are crispy all over.

  3. Dipping Sauce: Gyoza are often served with a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, vinegar, and sometimes chili oil. This sauce adds a tangy, salty, and slightly spicy element to the dumplings, enhancing their overall flavor.

Overall, gyoza are a delicious and comforting dish, enjoyed for their flavorful filling, delightful texture, and the added zing from the dipping sauce.

Making gyoza at home in Japan can be a fun and rewarding experience, allowing you to enjoy fresh, delicious dumplings tailored to your taste. Here’s a step-by-step guide to making gyoza from scratch, using ingredients commonly found in Japan:

Ingredients

For the Filling:

  • 250g ground pork
  • 1 cup finely chopped napa cabbage (hakusai)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped nira (garlic chives)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion (negi)
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (shoga)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil (goma-abura)
  • 1 tablespoon sake or mirin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

For the Gyoza Wrappers:

  • 30-40 gyoza wrappers (can be found in most supermarkets in Japan)

For Cooking:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup water

For the Dipping Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar (su)
  • A few drops of chili oil (ra-yu) (optional)

Instructions

  1. Prepare the Filling:

    • Place the finely chopped napa cabbage in a bowl and sprinkle with a little salt. Let it sit for 10 minutes, then squeeze out the excess moisture.
    • In a large bowl, combine the ground pork, chopped napa cabbage, nira, green onion, grated ginger, minced garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, sake or mirin, salt, and pepper. Mix well until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
  2. Assemble the Gyoza:

    • Place a gyoza wrapper in the palm of your hand.
    • Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the filling into the center of the wrapper.
    • Wet the edges of the wrapper with a little water.
    • Fold the wrapper in half over the filling to form a half-moon shape, pressing the edges together to seal. You can pleat the edges for a traditional look, but it’s not necessary.
    • Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.
  3. Cook the Gyoza:

    • Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
    • Arrange the gyoza in the skillet, flat side down, in a single layer. Cook until the bottoms are golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.
    • Add 1/4 cup of water to the skillet and immediately cover with a lid. Reduce the heat to medium and steam the gyoza until the water evaporates, about 5 minutes.
    • Remove the lid and continue cooking for another 1-2 minutes, until the bottoms are crispy again.
  4. Make the Dipping Sauce:

    • In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and chili oil (if using).
  5. Serve:

    • Transfer the cooked gyoza to a serving plate and serve hot with the dipping sauce on the side.

Tips:

  • Napa Cabbage: If napa cabbage is not available, you can use regular cabbage as a substitute.
  • Gyoza Wrappers: Store-bought wrappers save time, but you can make homemade wrappers if preferred.
  • Cooking Method: You can also boil or deep-fry gyoza for different textures.
  • Variations: Experiment with different fillings such as shrimp, chicken, or vegetables.

Enjoy making and eating gyoza at home in Japan!