Gyoza is kind of Japanese potsticker-like food, but fried. Eaten with soy sauce and that spicy oil they use, it is incredibly yummy.

Utsunomiya, the capital of Tochigi prefecture in Japan, is famous for its gyoza. Me and my fellow English teacher, Jesse D'Alessio, used to make the two-hour train trip from Shirakawa to Utsunomiya simply to buy thirty or so gyoza to munch on.

Mmmm. . . soooo gooood. Natsukashii.

Gyôza (餃子), also known as jiaozi in Chinese, have many interesting descriptions in the West: Chinese ravioli, potstickers, even "Japanese crescent shaped pan-fried dumplings" (to quote JDIC). These days the sole meaning of the character 餃 is "gyôza", but etymologically it's composed of 食 "to eat" and 交 "to mingle".

The Restaurant Experience

Mingled food? Food for mingling? Maybe both: gyôza are filled with a mix of interesting things, and since making them from scratch is a rather difficult and time-consuming process, it's a food most often enjoyed in restaurants, not a few of which specialize in nothing but gyôza. Small and relatively expensive, gyôza are usually a side dish to more substantial fare, in Japan most often ramen, although in China they might well appear in a course of dim sum. Ordering is usually by portion, with a "portion for one" (一人前 ichininmae) consisting of around 3 dumplings. Before eating, each diner must prepare their own dipping sauce consisting of the three magic ingredients: soy sauce (醤油 shôyu), vinegar (酢 su) and chili oil (辣油 raayu), which you will find conviniently located on your table. The exact proportion is a matter of much debate, but I like a large shot of soy, a smaller shot of vinegar and a few drops of chili oil. Then just dip your gyôza in and enjoy!

Rolling Your Own

The toughest part of making gyoza is making the skins (皮 kawa) used to wrap the filling, as they have to be perfectly circular and evenly thin (less than 1 mm). Unless you're the type of masochist who enjoys making their own pasta, you'll find it easier to do what everyone else does and buy readymade skins in packs of 24, available in the freezer of any Japanese or Chinese grocery. Defrost for an hour in a warm place and then peel each skin off carefully...!

And as for the filling, here are two favorites:

Traditional Pork-and-Cabbage Gyôza 本格派餃子

This is "the" gyôza filling served up by default in every ramen-ya in Japan. A bit complex, but not overwhelmingly so.

Kimchi Gyôza キムチ餃子

A popular Korean improvisation which is also very simple to prepare, since all the required spices are in the kimchi already!

Preparation

  1. Mix together the filling.
  2. Lay out 24 gyôza skins on your working surface and place 15g or so (around a tablespoon) of the filling in the center of each gyôza.
  3. Fold the skin over the filling so it makes a half-moon shape. With the fingers of both hands, press down on the circular edge towards the center, sealing the skins together and packing the filling in. (Leaving finger marks is a good thing, just be careful not to break the skin.) Repeat for each dumpling.
  4. Heat up some oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat. Place gyôza in pan in a single layer (do two batches if necessary) and fry, stirring and turning often, until they start to brown.
  5. Lower the heat to low and add water until it covers the lower third of the gyôza. The water will rapidly turn to steam, and this steam will cook the gyôza. (This is more difficult with an electric range, add more water if the water evaporates before the meat is cooked.)
Serves anywhere from 2 to 8 people, depending on how hungry they are, although I'd strongly recommend whipping up some real ramen if want to fill your stomach. The drink of choice is definitely beer.

References

Personal experience (yum yum!)
http://axon.cs.byu.edu/recipes/gyoza.html
http://www.bekkoame.ne.jp/~yagi-g/kimugyo.html

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