There's a novelty to gyoza that doesn’t seem to tire: the cute crescent shape, the ease of eating them, the convivial atmosphere and good value of gyoza restaurants, the customisable dipping sauces, and, of course, the flavourful fillings. It’s casual eating at its best. Gyoza made its way into Japanese cuisine from China sometime after World War II – a fairly recent addition considering Japan’s long food history – and can now be found ubiquitously from convenience stores to ramen shops, izakaya and now, gyoza speciality restaurants. Here’s a selection of our favourite gyoza hotspots.
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The most challenging aspect of dining at Chao Chao is deciding what to order. Where many gyoza restaurants offer just pan-fried and steamed (or boiled) gyoza with a pork filling, Chao Chao offers a wide range of varieties – prawn, chicken, beef, vegetables, pork – with an interesting array of toppings. The standout items include prawn gyoza with avocado sauce, chicken and mozzarella cheese gyoza, kujo welsh onion gyoza, the classic crispy fried ‘Chao Chao gyoza’ filled with pork and nira (garlic chives), and pan-fried gyoza topped with a thick layer of refreshing grated daikon and shiso.
Located opposite the lively dining strip that runs under the Yurakucho train tracks, Chao Chao has counter seating as well as several tables for four. The mix of dark timber and red décor creates a Chinese restaurant feel; indeed, the name is a take on the Chinese word for gyoza. From the extensive drinks menu, try one of the unique sours, such as the apple vinegar, salt orange or frozen lime varieties. These sweet-and-sour drinks balance out the savouriness of the gyoza.
Gyoza Nakayoshi is a fairly large (60 seat) gyoza izakaya that has been drawing crowds for over 30 years. The interior has a touch of Showa-retro charm; walls are plastered with vintage posters and placards of the signatures of famous diners, and shelves are lined with bottles of whisky and shochu with the names of their owners inscribed, awaiting the regulars’ next visit.
The restaurant’s unique offering is Hakata-style gyoza (¥540 per serving of approximately ten), from Hakata city in Kyushu. The dumplings are cooked and served in a cast-iron pan, which creates a crisp and flaky exterior. The filling is a combination of pork, cabbage and garlic chives with kikurage (wood-ear mushrooms), which provide a slightly crunchy texture. Slim crescents that fit snugly fit into the pan, the gyoza’s size and lightness make them a good pairing with beer.
For seasoning, there’s a couple of extra options: yuzukosho (a pungent paste of yuzu zest and chilli) and aka kosho (a hot red paste of chilli, sesame oil and sesame seeds). The side dishes include izakaya classics like oden, potato salad, spicy cod roe and chive omelette.
Taihoki’s gyoza are voluminous, meaty dumplings. One variety is filled with local and Iberico pork mince, nira, hakusai (Chinese cabbage) and chunks of prawn for sweetness and lightness in body (¥480 for three), while the alternative is a moreish combination of prawn, squid and scallop (¥630 for three). The crisp, crimped edges of these tasty morsels create a delicious textural contrast to the tender filling.
The atmosphere is relaxed but bustling, typical of Ebisu after-work haunts, and the staff are friendly and efficient. Inside, Taihoki is one long room with sliding tables of two which are pushed together or pulled apart to accommodate different group sizes. The interior is dark and stylish, with decorative timber fixtures and a wall of shimmering coffee-coloured tiles.
Other menu favourites to accompany your gyoza are fried rice, grilled seasonal vegetables, mapo tofu and ‘Ebisu shumai’ (steamed dumplings). We recommend pairing your meal with the house speciality dragon highball, a combination of Chinese rice wine with soda water and fresh lemon.
This homely little restaurant, tucked down a side street near Nogizaka Station, has an eclectic décor of mint-green walls, hanging ink paintings and Chinese knick-knacks on the shelves. It’s consistently busy with locals who come to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and the entertainment of watching the chef prepare his signature gyoza in the small open kitchen.
The menu is short: it offers two types of gyoza (both ¥700 for six pieces) as well as popular Chinese-inspired sides like grilled aubergine with Chinese miso sauce, green chilli and cucumber with fresh coriander, and cold noodles with cod roe and scallop sauce. The dumplings are dainty little parcels, handmade daily by the owner-chef. The yakigyoza (fried gyoza) are filled with a tasty mixture of pork, nira and hakusai while the suigyoza (boiled gyoza) are, uniquely, filled with minced lamb and spices. All gyoza are made to a 10g:20g of wrapper-to-filling ratio, which the chef believes to be the optimum balance.
Wash your meal down with a jasmine-hai, a combination of jasmine tea and shochu: the light, floral and slightly bitter beverage complements the bold flavours of the Chinese dishes.
Take the west exit from Yoyogi Station and less than a minute’s walk away is Sosan no Mise, a two-storey Taiwanese gyoza and ramen restaurant that has been a local favourite for 15 years. The gyoza here will appeal to those who like their dumplings on the heftier side.
The yakigyoza, which are shaped like round cushions, are steamed before pan-fried, providing a contrast between the soft skin and crisp base. The boiled dumplings, however, are soft and succulent throughout. The filling for both types of gyoza (¥570 for six) is a combination of pork, nira, onion, hakusai and pork stock for a rich finish. The wrappers, made in-house, are thicker than average, creating a mochi mochi (chewy) texture.
The condiment options, in addition to the usual soy sauce, chilli sesame oil and white vinegar, include black pepper and karashi (Japanese mustard) too, so you can experiment with flavour combinations. The crunchy tataki cucumber is a popular side dish, or for something more hearty, four types of Taiwanese spicy ramen are available. Place your order at the vending machine outside to save time; otherwise, you can order directly from the staff.
Okei has been in business for over half a century and its chef-owner Hitoshi Umamichi makes some of the best gyoza around. The wrappers and fillings are still made by hand and with the original recipe that paved the way for the restaurant’s opening back in 1954. It’s the way gyoza should be: the skin is chewy on top and fried till golden and crispy at the bottom, while the filling is a juicy mix of Chinese cabbage, ground pork and garlic chives. For a full meal, we suggest you pair a plate of six dumplings (¥600) with a large bowl of the popular tanmen noodles (¥680), which is served in a light salt-flavoured broth with vegetables and sliced pork.
The restaurant’s inclusion the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand list means that queues are pretty much unavoidable, especially on Saturdays. But it’s worth waiting to get a portion of Okei’s limited gyoza stock – he makes enough for 240 people daily and, yes, they often sell out before closing time.
There’s lots to like about Ootake, which just opened last year. For one, its interior is fresh and modern, with natural-toned concrete walls and tiles, and blond timber furniture. We also love its homemade lemon sour, a concoction of fresh lemon, shochu and soda water. More importantly, its flavourful gyoza don’t contain either garlic or nira (although these are available as a side), meaning the dumplings are easy on your stomach and your breath.
Ootake serves several varieties of pork-filled gyoza – the classic yakigyoza, which are fried in a row with the fine, crisp webbing between them (¥450 for six), cheese gyoza, boiled gyoza and, our favourite, boiled gyoza topped with a creamy, spicy sesame sauce and a mound of Japanese parsley (¥580 for six). As far as side dishes go, we can’t look past the double cheese potato salad and housemade pickles.
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