Boiled dumplings, called Jiao-zi in Chinese, are a traditional food in northern China but in Japan people commonly enjoy grilled dumplings, called Gyoza. Differences between these two kinds of dumplings exist not only in their preparation methods, but also in other aspects. Japanese style Gyoza are the re-definition of Chinese dumplings, a creative interpretation of Jiao-zi. Gyoza are an example of Japanese innovation.
Shock upon Arrival in Japan
When I first arrived in Japan from China as a foreign student, I invited a Japanese friend to my house for a meal. Before her arrival, I thought for a while what kind of Chinese food to prepare. I decided on handmade boiled dumplings. Dumplings are a vital part of Chinese home cooking, with people often preparing and cooking them together. Families often work together making the filling and dumpling skins, and then assembling each dumpling. Making, eating, talking – it is a very happy family time. Although the preparation for handmade dumplings is quite time-consuming, I thought it was the perfect cuisine to express my gratitude and to share with my Japanese friend.
I began to consider the filling. I wasn’t sure if fillings popular in China would also be appreciated by Japanese eaters. I had just come to Japan and my experience with the taste of Japanese food was not extensive. After consideration, I decided that what would be the best for my guest, if I did not know her likes, would be what I found most delicious. So, I selected my favorite: a mix of chopped leeks and fried eggs. It seemed very simple, but with the distinctive smell of the leeks, and the pleasant contrast between the fresh green leeks and the yellow of the eggs, I became confident with my choice. Without a doubt, these dumplings would be accepted.
The day arrived and my friend visited my home. We made dumplings together, starting by preparing the dough for the dumplings’ skin. After about one hour, the dumplings were boiled, and we began to eat. When my friend tried our dumplings I was sure she would say that the filling was delicious. However, to my surprise her comment was, "The skin. This skin is so delicious." I still remember her comment. I was stunned to hear it, and am surprised when I think of it even now. Why was she so taken with the skin? Why not the filling of crisp leeks and creamy eggs? For me, the dumplings’ skin was just ordinary, not the tasty treat of the dumpling. At that time I really could not understand my friend’s feeling. However, I did not question her response. We enjoyed our meal of dumplings and later she went home. But, her fascination with the skin became a riddle for me that lasted a long time.
Ten Years Later, The Riddle is Understood
Ten years have passed since that meal with my Japanese friend, and since then I have eaten many plates of Japanese Gyoza. And, I think I have finally solved the riddle of my friend’s fascination with the dumpling skin that we made. Gyoza in Japan are usually pan fried and not boiled so the skin of Gyoza is crisp, whereas the skin of boiled dumplings is sticky. When my friend first ate handmade boiled dumplings at my home, she was struck by the new texture of boiled dumplings.
As for me, conversely, during the first few years of living in Japan, I did not have much interest in Gyoza. To be honest, I was convinced that they would not be so delicious. To tell you the truth, there are pan-fried dumplings in China which are similar to Gyoza, such as “guotie/potstickers.” In addition, in China, there is a habit of eating leftover boiled dumplings the next day, pan-fried in oil. The common feature of them is that the skin is thick. The fried skin does taste good and many Chinese people feel that the texture after frying is inferior to the texture of boiled dumplings, so they prefer their dumplings boiled.
However, I have now lived in Japan for many years, and have gradually come to realize that Gyoza are delicious on their own and shouldn’t be compared to boiled dumplings. I like the crisp texture of the pan fried skin and the savory flavor of the filling that becomes even more delicious after the skin is fried. In fact, Gyoza have become one of my favorite foods.
Gyoza, An Innovative Food from Dumplings
Gyoza are very different from boiled dumplings even though the shape of them is the same. Not only the preparation and the texture, but also the function is very different. In China, dumplings are a meal and usually each person eats more than 20 pieces. In contrast, Gyoza are a kind of accompanying dish and only several pieces per person are served at a meal. Therefore, Gyoza are not an extension of boiled dumplings but rather a redefinition of the boiled dumpling and an expression of Japanese innovation.
Why was it invented in Japan and not China? Most Chinese are so accustomed to boiled dumplings that they are not able to accept the idea of Gyoza as being equal. But in Japan, after boiled dumplings were introduced from China, the food evolved under the influence of Japanese food culture. In Japan, fried food, such as tempura, is popular, so pan frying dumplings did not seem like such a strange idea and these types of dumplings were accepted and grew in popularity.
Gyoza: From Japan to the World
Gyoza took on a different form in Japan and Gyoza culture has been well established there. Now Gyoza culture is not limited to Japan, but is accepted in other countries. In China, Gyoza are now appearing on menus in Japanese restaurants and there unique taste has been accepted by some Chinese people (See Figure 1). In larger cities in the United States, frozen Gyoza are sold in some supermarket chains, with package designs that refer to Gyoza, not Jiao-zi and dumplings (See Figure 2). And, just last year, a " Gyoza BAR" opened in Paris (See Figure 3). It has a very simple menu, Gyoza and beer, but it is always full of people. Gyoza are gradually becoming popular beyond the borders of Japan. In the near future, Gyoza may be offered next to hot dogs on menus in baseball stadiums in the USA, with a glass of Chianti in Italy, or in a pub in Oxford, England…I believe that Gyoza will become a global food one day just like Sushi and Ramen.
Figure 1 Restaurant menu in Beijing
Figure 2 Supermarket in Los Angeles
Figure 3 Gyoza Bar in Paris
As Gyoza become more and more popular around the world, the need for high quality, automated Gyoza making machines has increased. Fortunately, Gyoza making machines and pan-fried machines have been invented and are being produced in Japan. According to my investigations, there are more than one thousand patents for Gyoza machines in Japan. These machines produce Gyoza with a speed that cannot be matched by human hands, and with a taste and texture quality close to handmade. Not surprisingly, the international market for these Gyoza machines is growing rapidly.
The Gyoza Bar in Paris, uses a small half-automatic Gyoza machine (See Figure 4) made by TOA industry, located in Hamamatsu city, a famous Gyoza city in Japan, where the average annual Gyoza consumption is the highest in Japan. These machines are enabling the growth of Gyoza culture. Japan food culture and Japan technology are connected; Japanese innovation, the combination of culture and technology, is at work.
Figure 4 Gyoza machine
Boiled Dumplings and Gyoza in my House Now
After discovering the delicious texture of Gyoza, now I enjoy making Gyoza in my home. I still like to eat boiled dumplings, so my family always makes both Jiao-zi (See Figure 5) and Gyoza (See Figure 6). The fillings are the same, the skins are different, but both of them are delicious. I have named them “China-Japan Friendship Food.”
Figure 5 Handmade boiled dumplings
Figure 6 Handmade Gyoza
Last year, my Japanese friend who said, “The skin is delicious,” came to my home again after about ten years because I moved to Osaka from Tokyo. I invited her to my home again and we made both boiled dumplings and Gyoza this time. They reminded us of ten years ago when he came to my home and the memory is also “delicious.”
Thanks to boiled dumplings and Gyoza, we can enjoy two kinds of dumplings, and the two cultures they embody.