I learned how to make gyoza, or Japanese pan-fried dumplings, in 2007. I was living in Hyogo, Japan, for my first-ever trip abroad. Japan is where I got my first taste of life abroad, and where I connected with another culture through cooking. Japan is where I learned how to make the best gyoza, from the best host parents I could have wanted. My host parents were English-speaking, California-loving people who coolly shirked traditional Japanese expectations and gender roles: a father who cooked, cleaned, and brushed the girls’ hair before ballet class, and a mother who worked late, spoke her mind, and took no shit.
My host mother taught me how to make the filling, and my host father, who learned to cook in a Japanese restaurant in the United States, taught me how to correctly fry them. Half-fried, half-steamed, these dumplings are juicy, succulent, and so flavorful. Learning to make them became my main preoccupation; my little host sisters even remixed the Pokémon theme song in my honor; instead of “Pokémon master,” we sang about becoming the “Gyoza master.” One evening, we all sat down together, surrounded by piles of vegetables, meat, and round dumpling wrappers, and set down to work together.
Sweat beads on my forehead, I learned how to painstakingly fold little pleats to make my gyoza picture-perfect. At first they looked like ugly misshapen turds, but after a bit of practice, my gyoza started to look more like succulent bundles. My host sisters were my cheerleaders, and my host parents were my teachers. It was thanks to the combined family effort that I learned to making perfect gyoza. That is the secret to this recipe: don’t make it alone!
Flipped crispy-side up onto a plate, served with a tangy dipping sauce of soy sauce and rice vinegar, these gyoza send me to heaven every time. These dumplings taste like pure heavenly satisfaction, best served with a glass of cold beer. Kampai!