The Ultimate Guide to Gyoza, Japan's Most Popular Dumplings

By Taylor Hamada
Updated: October 20, 2022

Japan is known worldwide for its fresh sushi, sashimi, savory ramen, and sweet mochi desserts. If you're a Japanese food fanatic, Chinese cuisine enthusiast, or a typical foodie, you may already know what gyoza is. 

What is gyoza made out of, and are they vegetarian or vegan? Is gyoza even that good, or are they just quick and inexpensive? Let's learn why this little dumpling has obsessed Japan's people for centuries. 


What is Gyoza?

Gyoza is juicy and mouth-watering Japanese dumplings, usually filled with ground meat, cabbage, Chinese chives (called Nira in Japanese), ginger, and garlic. The thin dough wrappers allow for a crispy outside when pan-fried and a juicy inside. With roots in China, gyoza has transformed over the years and become a popular dish within Japan. You can find specialty gyoza in local towns that use local ingredients, such as matcha gyoza wrappers made in Uji City, Kyoto. Because they are so cheap and quickly eaten on a short lunch break, gyoza one of the most consumed foods in Japan, along with sushi, ramen, and curry rice.


The Origin of Gyoza

There is some debate about when and where gyoza originated. However, there seems to be evidence of dumpling fossils found in the ruins of ancient Mesopotamia. It is believed that China was already cooking and eating dumplings around the same time, about 3000 BC. 

The gyoza was first introduced to Japan in the early 1800s from mainland China. Yet, gyoza, "jiaozi" in Chinese, wasn't widely eaten in Japan until after World War II. Japanese soldiers, returning home after the war, missed eating the cheap and delicious Chinese street food. Soon, many restaurants started making their own seemingly new and uniquely Japanese version of gyoza. 

There are thousands of places within Japan where you can find gyoza. Ramen shops, Chinese-style restaurants, specialty restaurants, and even convenience stores carry premade gyoza. 

Gyoza in a pan

Types of Gyoza

Our grandma's always told us, "the only thing that matters is what's on the inside." But when it comes to gyoza, the outside is just as important. Not only is there a wide variety of gyoza fillings, but the cooking method can make all the difference. Sorry, grandma!

Pork gyoza

Pork gyoza is Japan's most common and popular gyoza filling, consisting of minced pork, cabbage, Chinese chives, garlic, ginger, and other seasonings. These gyoza are often the default and sometimes the only gyoza available at ramen shops and other restaurants. Pork gyoza is often enjoyed as a main dish, appetizer, or side dish. In Japan, pork gyoza is somewhat synonymous with ramen since pork gyoza is usually served as a side dish.

Gyoza and beer

Vegetable gyoza

There is no one way to make a vegetable gyoza filling, and every restaurant's vegetable gyoza may have a different recipe. The most common vegetable gyoza filling may include tofu, cabbage, onion, mushrooms, and carrots. 

Vegans should use caution when ordering vegetable gyoza at a restaurant. Although no animal products are usually included in vegetable gyoza filling, a restaurant may use animal products during cooking. Even though this is rare, it's best to check with the restaurant staff before ordering.

Chicken gyoza

Chicken gyoza, incredibly delicious when deep fried, filling consists of minced chicken, cabbage, Chinese chives, garlic, ginger, and other seasonings. Since chicken gyoza is a little oily, many people like to pair this gyoza with a vegetable side dish. Steamed or roasted vegetables, a fresh salad, or a creamy coleslaw are guaranteed to bring out the flavor of this gyoza.

Beef gyoza

Beef gyoza is filled with a mixture of minced beef, cabbage, Chinese chives, garlic, ginger, and other seasonings. Since beef gyoza is an especially savory type of gyoza, it's beautifully paired with plain white rice and miso (fermented soybean paste) soup. 

Hands making gyoza

Shrimp gyoza

Seafood lovers rejoice! There is a gyoza option for you as well!

Shrimp, or prawn, gyoza filling consists of minced shrimp, cabbage, Chinese chives, garlic, ginger, and other seasonings. Shrimp gyoza is much lighter than different meat-filled gyoza, so they pair with anything and everything. Spicy tofu, salted edamame, grilled beef or chicken skewers, and much more!

Fried gyoza

Pan-fried gyoza is Japan's most popular type of gyoza, and it's not difficult to see why. Uncooked gyoza is first placed on an oiled pan and cooked until the bottom of the gyoza becomes brown and crispy. Then, a mixture of water and cornstarch is added to the pan and covered to allow the gyoza to steam. This method of cooking gyoza originated in Japan and has become the most common way of cooking gyoza in Japan.

Deep-fried gyoza is a less popular way of cooking gyoza within Japan but is often sold at specialty shops and izakayas (Japanese bars). These gyoza are cooked similarly to fries; made in advance, frozen, and then steeped in boiling oil until the outside is brown and crunchy.

Steamed gyoza

Steamed gyoza is the most traditional way of cooking gyoza since it closely resembles the method of cooking Chinese jiaozi. This gyoza is often placed inside a bamboo or wood container and steamed until the outside wrapper becomes somewhat transparent.

Steamed gyoza

What is the difference between dumplings and gyoza?

Is gyoza a potsticker? Is gyoza a dumpling?

The answer to these questions is both simple and complicated. 

The simple answer: there is no difference; since gyoza is a dumpling. 

The complicated answer: there are so many differences since not all dumplings are gyoza. The most significant differences between traditional dumplings and gyoza are their shape, wrappers, and method of cooking. 

Gyoza wrappers are small, circular disks of wheat flour dough, flattened until they are wafer-thin. These wrappers allow the outside of the gyoza to get a little crunchy during pan-frying. While some dumplings wrappers can be similar to the thin gyoza wrappers, many Chinese dumplings and potstickers are wrapped in much thicker dough wrappers.

In Japan, gyoza is almost exclusively pan-fried and steamed, served on its own or with a salty and tangy dipping sauce. Dumplings can be boiled, steamed, or fried; served as is, with a spicy sauce, or in a soup.

A variety of dumplings in little serving bowls

How to eat gyoza

When eating pan-fried and steamed gyoza, the best way to enjoy them is by dipping them in a soy sauce, rice vinegar, and chili oil mixture. Some restaurants may serve their gyoza with this sauce already made in a small dish; however, you can easily make it yourself using the Japanese spices and ingredients available at the table or counter. This gyoza dipping sauce is what brings gyoza to the next level! 

To make a standard gyoza sauce, pour equal parts of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and chili oil into a small and shallow dish. Adding red pepper flakes will provide you with your desired heat; for those who like it hot. Dip away and enjoy gyoza's salty, tangy, and savory experience!

Gyoza sauce

With so many fillings and cooking methods, it's hard to decide the best way to enjoy gyoza. I'm happiest sitting at a table, in a loud izakaya, passing around plates of gyoza and other dishes with my friends. My favorite combination is eating gyoza with a massive glass of ice-cold Japanese beer, green tea, or your favorite Japanese drink

In Japan, preparing, folding, and wrapping gyoza is a fun way to spend time with your family and friends. Many spend this time chatting about their day, catching up on the latest gossip, watching television, and listening to music. Preparing gyoza with the ones you care about makes you feel warm inside, just like the gyoza you'll be sharing!

I recommend byFood's vegetarian gyoza recipe for those who enjoy cooking at home. These vegetarian and vegan-friendly gyoza are a healthier alternative to traditional Japanese pork gyoza.

You don't need to travel far and wide to find delicious gyoza; you don't even need to leave the comfort of your home! The great thing about gyoza is that it can be enjoyed anywhere, anytime, and it's always delicious. 

Gyoza is often served at ramen restaurants, so if you're in the area, check out some of these Ramen Restaurants in Japan.

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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Taylor Hamada
Taylor is a Kyoto-based foodie that loves gardening and creating seasonal recipes for her friends and family to enjoy. She strives to live her days on a self-sustainable farm in the Japanese countryside. Until then, she enjoys eating and drinking her way through Japan, America, and many other countries!
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