Andrew’s world in Japan 2019/July

Artist & researcher based in KL since 2009, passionately exploring the creative process & connecting with other creative people.

Gyoza On The Tip Of My Mind ⑤ – Utsunomiya Specialty

When dumplings come to mind, my mouth instantly begins to salivate. Cravings can be difficult to satiate. I’d be lying if I claimed to not have any cravings; I just do my best to not think of them. Controlling them is important although not always a success. It’s a blessing when the possibility exists to appease them. Recently, a houseguest returned with perfect golden fried dumplings from a nearby SS2 hawker. I had no idea these were available so close. Now that I’m dialed in, I can let down my guard and dream of gyoza. Instantly I am transported to Utsunomiya’s abundant gyoza options. There are different theories of how this town’s food focus began, but I find it amazing how much variety can be developed out of one particular dish.

Although today there are as many variations as people cooking them, the basics of gyoza are simple, a dumpling with ground pork combined with vegetables and seasoning enveloped in a thin wheat-based casing. Today, besides traditional, you can gobble up gyoza burgers to super chewy mochi skin gyoza. Utsunomiya placed this dish central to their town’s identity and fostered its growth. Locals formed the Utsunomiya Gyoza Association (UGA). City officials, members of the association and locals unite to spread the gyoza love. While the numbers of shops and stalls serving mouth-watering gyoza grow, there are the long-standing mainstays with events and functions.

An ideal time to attempt tasting the widest range of styles is during the first weekend of November. Since 1999, there is the annual Utsunomiya Gyoza Festival. Members of the UGA open stalls in Castle Park. Some run specials and versions only available during this event. The average price is 100 per piece. They recommend everyone use public transport and if you need a place to stay, book well in advance.

On the daily though, you can steadily try the offerings of each shop. I wish I had that kind of time and money. During my visit, I tried Masashi. On a light rainy day, there was still a line up of people out the door. They were nice enough to supply some umbrellas as we stood to wait our turn. My friend and I sampled traditional fried and steamed gyoza. Other notable places to try include Gyotendo, Utsunomiya Gyoza-kan, Minmin and UGA’s own Kirasse. Well, Kirasse is more of a special location, almost a gyoza-learning center. There are five of the specialty shops, informational posters, a shop selling ingredients and equipment and the opportunity to take workshops from gyoza making masters. Someday I hope to visit this facility and try many more of the various types. Until then, I will just have to appreciate the local Petaling Jaya hawker around the corner.