Hamamatsu Gyoza: A Soul Food that Has Supported Local Households

Did you know that Hamamatsu is
also regarded as a "town of gyoza" along with Utsunomiya? For
example, Hamamatsu has been ranked No. 1 for its gyoza consumption for four
consecutive years since 2015 in a household survey conducted by the Ministry of
Internal Affairs and Communications. The data excluded gyozas eaten at
restaurants and frozen gyozas, and compiled the total purchases of fresh gyozas
and grilled gyozas bought at small retailers such as take-out stores,
supermarkets, etc. The significant factor that helped dub Hamamatsu as the town
of gyoza is the “take-out culture” that has been traditionally and strongly
rooted in this region. 

Hamamatsu Gyoza (Dumplings) (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Why do Hamamatsu residents take gyozas back home? Yutaka Oba of Hamamatsu Gyoza Society explains as follows.

"Hamamatsu is a manufacturing city, and is home to manufacturers of musical instruments, automobiles, motorcycles, etc. Hence, Hamamatsu has always had a lot of dual-income households. When returning home from work, mothers can easily add a simple dish to their dinner table by picking up fresh gyoza from a store, and baking or re-heating it at home, which puts a smile on the faces of the family members. I think this is the reason why we have the take-out culture here. Each household in Hamamatsu has at least one or two gyoza stores that they frequently visit.”

Hamamatsu Gyoza (Dumplings) (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Since there’s almost always a gyoza on a dinner table in Hamamatsu, the residents do not strongly identify their region as a “town of gyoza.” However, Mr. Oba says, "They just aren’t conscious about it. Actually, they would all have their favorite store or preference for eating gyoza.”

Hamamatsu Gyoza (Dumplings): Steaming and Frying Gyoza (Dumplings) (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

The sweetness of cabbage is at the heart of its delicious flavor

A gyoza store in Hamamatsu can be defined as “having existed in Hamamatsu for at least 3 years, and makes their gyoza in Hamamatsu City.” Currently, there are about 80 specialty stores that meets this criteria, and this number will climb to about 300 if izakaya taverns are included. The first feature of Hamamatsu gyoza is that cabbage is used abundantly. The neighboring Aichi Prefecture produces excellent cabbage, so it was natural to use cabbage instead of Chinese cabbage. In addition, onions from Hamamatsu are also sometimes mixed in. Hence, 60% to 80% of its ingredients are comprised of vegetables, and pork is used only as a filler. It’s also unique in its non-usage of leek, which is commonly used in gyozas throughout the nation. Mr. Jun Osumi, the third-generation owner of the long-established "Ganso Hamamatsu Gyoza Ishimatsu" founded in 1953, talks about the characteristics of Hamamatsu gyoza, as follows.

Hamamatsu Gyoza (Dumplings): Frying Gyoza (Dumplings) (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“The secret of Hamamatsu gyoza lies in the sweetness of the cabbage. Hence, if leek is added, it can overpower that sweetness. I have eaten various gyozas throughout Japan, but the only cabbage-based gyoza was from Hamamatsu. By the way, most Hamamatsu gyoza stores happen to make their original sauce. Each store will make a sauce that matches perfectly to their own gyoza so that it can be eaten most deliciously. That’s why our sauce only goes well with our gyozas. The sauce is made to let the flavors of cabbage stand out, so it won’t pair well with gyozas with leeks in it.”
Hamamatsu gyoza is very healthy, as it contains mostly vegetables, and wrapped in thin skin. Although it’s a simple flavor that’s characterized by the sweetness of cabbage, the aromatically grilled skin, the soft inner texture, and the original gyoza sauce which adds up to an exquisite dish. It’s no wonder that it’s common for a single lady to end up eating 10, 20 pieces.

Hamamatsu Gyoza (Dumplings): Dishing Up Bean Sprouts to Gyoza (Dumplings) (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

The thoughtfulness of catering to customers is at the heart of the dish

One of the characteristics of Hamamatsu gyoza, although not a requirement, is the addition of boiled bean sprouts at the center of a plate with grilled gyozas arranged in a circular fashion. By eating some bean sprouts in between gyozas, it can refresh your mouth, which exhibits an exceptional harmony that makes you want to reach for another piece of gyoza. Mr. Osumi tells us how their first generation owner started to add bean sprouts, as follows.

Hamamatsu Gyoza (Dumplings): Fried Gyoza (Dumplings) (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“Our business began as a food stand, which became popular for our gyozas. The following year, we became a small restaurant, but initially, the center of the plate was filled with more gyozas instead of bean sprouts. However, as prices of commodities rised, our predecessors had to make some adjustments, so they decided to get rid of the gyozas at the center. But at the time, the only form of entertainment was eating out. So they felt guilty to serve somethings that’s empty at the center,as there’s a saying: “how it looks is part of the taste.” After trial and error of adding stir-fried cabbages, stir-fried bean sprouts, etc. to fill the empty space at the center, they finally ended up with boiled bean sprouts dressed with sesame oil, which is the exact same style that’s served today. Some of our employees have also branched out, which has increased the number of places having the same style as ours.”

Hamamatsu Gyoza (Dumplings): Steaming and Frying Gyoza (Dumplings) (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

As I mentioned in the beginning, the “take-out culture” is deeply rooted in this region, but the “best way of eating a gyoza is while it’s piping hot at a restaurant!,” says every member of the Hamamatsu Gyoza Society. To provide an unchanging quality to customers, delicate adjustments and efforts are indispensable, says Mr. Osumi.

“The key factors are selecting the right cabbage, which is the main ingredient, and the cooking method for reducing the water content. The basic method hasn’t changed since our store first opened, but water content of cabbage fluctuates depending on the season and where it is from, so we adjust our process and the flavoring of ingredients to provide constant quality to our customers. This may entail some craftsmanship. The taste of cabbage can change just by cutting the cabbage 1 mm thinner, so we put quite a lot of attention to the slightest details.

Hamamatsu Gyoza (Dumplings): Steaming and Frying Gyoza (Dumplings) (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

In the past several years, we’ve had more foreign customers visit us, and have been finding more opportunities to sell our products at overseas events. We’ve also been especially pleased to have had positive reactions from those from the Western and Asian countries. How gyoza and beer go well together seem to be universally understandable as well.”

Members of Hamamatsu Gyoza Society and Representative Osumi San of Ishimatsu (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Hamamatsu gyoza is not a dish that’s voluminous and overpowering, but exudes a gentle, mild flavor that makes you want to eat it again and again. Depending on the store, the balance of ingredients and cooking methods are slightly different, so it’s kind of fun to find your favorite spot. Mr. Oba hopes that more people from both domestic and abroad will experience the delicious taste of Hamamatsu gyoza.

“It would be wonderful to have more people learn about the delicious Hamamatsu gyoza, and wish to visit its birthplace someday. The taste is not as heavy as regular dumplings, so you can easily eat a lot by yourself. I recommend ordering about 1.5 times your usual portion!”

Hamamatsu Gyoza Society (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Credits: Story

Cooperation with:
Hamamatsu Gyoza Society

Photos: Yusuke Abe (YARD)
Text: Orika Uchiumi
Edit: Saori Hayashida
Production: Skyrocket Corporation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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