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Gyoza are a Japanese rendition of an old Chinese recipe for pork dumplings. This is one of the more ubiquitous things Japanese families serve and are generally found in most restaurants, especially ramen stops and donburi places.  Some restaurants, like “Gyoza no Oo” (‘king of gyoza’), specialize in them.  These are so ubiquitous that grocery stores usually stock a manufactured freeze dried version.  Generally, they are served as a side dish or even a main course where a family will eat off of a large hot plate in a similar fashion to yakiniku.

The recipe is fairly easy and most of the ingredients can be found in a standard Asian foods grocery store.  The general ingredients are round gyoza wrappers, ground pork, garlic, nira (similar to chives or green onion), shredded cabbage, soy sauce, sake, ground fresh ginger and some black pepper for basic flavoring.  Additionally, we like to add some red miso paste, a little yellow onion and ground beef

This is the meat mix.

so that the meat is a 30/70 mix.  The miso paste is also something that we just like; it gives them an earthier, sweet taste.  Some recipes also add sesame oil to the mix, but I’m not really fond of it personally.  There are many locally accepted additions to this framework that are typically regionally famous.  For example, I’ve had crunchy renkon (lotus root) gyoza before, which was interesting as a local oddity.

Lets get down to it. Boil all vegetables until soft then cut and drain most of the excess water. Mix the pork, spices and a heaping spoon of miso paste.  Add a spoon of soy sauce and a spoon of sake.  These two ingredients and the pepper are generally to personal taste.  Cover the meat and let it stand for 10 minutes or so.

Next comes the tedious wrapping process:

The first thing you need to know is how to work with dumpling wrappers.  Dumpling wrappers work best when they are cold and usually people buy them in the store’s freezer section.  Let these thaw either in a fridge or outside to near room temperature. The key is to not let them get too warm or they’ll melt and stick together.  Once that happens there’s nothing you can really do with them.  Usually, they’re coated in starch to aid in the wrapping process by removing that extra moisture that’s always around in these climates.  The biggest point is to not let them get them wet before using them.  Take a small ball of meat and put it on the center of the wrapper then while in the palm of your hand line the edge of the wrapper with a little bit of water.  This will make it stick when you fold the wrapper up. Folding it is hard to describe, but pinch the outside edge and fold it over about 1 cm and repeat this 4-5 times. Set aside somewhere dry and wait to cook. Repeat this process several hundred times and you’re set for dinner.

To cook them place them in a fry pan and sear the bottom until golden brown.  This will help them release from the pan and give them a crispy skin once their done.  Once they’re browned, add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan.  Cover with a lid and listen to the sound.  When they’re done, you’ll hear the sound of the water boiling change to a higher note.  This means that most of the water should be boiled off and the gyoza should be ready to eat.  Cut the heat and enjoy.  We eat them right off the hot plate.  Another option aside from frying them would be to use them in soups, in a similar way to wonton soup in Chinese restaurants in the states.

One more thing, I almost forgot the sauce. People usually dip them in some kind of sauce, variations of which are almost endless.  You can buy them or make them from stuff in you kitchen.  Most of these sauces have a soy sauce base, with something else to give it a little spice.  I’ve used ponzu (a kind of citrus soy sauce), raiyu (red chill oil) or just delicious sriracha.  Some people also add sesame oil to the mix, but I’m not a fan.

Lonely prey, stalked, waits to be eaten

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If you’re looking for a small bit of techno-nostalgia, then the Yamaguchi SL line might be right up your alley. Starting from Shin-Yamaguchi station and ending in the castle town of Tsuwano, the line hosts a steam locomotive tour of the local area and an examination of Japanese train history. The train is one of, I think, 10 working steam locomotives in Japan and is run by a C571, built in 1937 by Kawasaki. The tour leaves at 10:30 am and arrives 12:30pm giving tourists about 3 hours to see Tsuwano’s famous castle and carp infested waterways (Sorry, no fishing permitted before dark). The train is popular, so it would be wise to buy tickets ahead of time by calling SL-Yamaguchi-Go at 0570 002 486. The train runs from March to October, throughout the summer.

As the whistle toots a commanding bellow, the train crawls to a start with each punch of the steel engine in front. Like a day after the shooting range, the cordite-esque smell drifts through the air, streams of soot trail behind as you ride. The rhythmic swinging crawl gradually lessens as the train accelerates to its cruising speed and the velvet seats become comfortable. Each of its 5 cars conforms to a different era of train travel in Japan adding a historic mystique to the 2 hour journey: The Meiji era with its leather buttoned seats, the Western with its velvet seats and stained glass boxes, the Taisho and the long-running Showa (the fifth car was apparently too famous to name).





Like the shinkansen, the cars are tended by a snack salesperson selling beer, candy and bento boxes. If you behave, the ticketmaster will give you cool SL stickers during the ride. Beware the tunnels if you ride on the patio deck, the soot and ash will cover you, but passing by the towns on the way is also fun. Many of the farmers along the track will wave and say hello as you pass by. It’s worth a visit, I think. Stop on by.

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