Last weekend (yes, I’m writing about it only now, bugger off) we had a gyoza festival (gyoza matsuri, 餃子祭り) in our town.
For the uninitiated – what’s gyoza? A dumpling by any other name. Sort of Japanese pierogis. Eaten in pretty much the same way – steamed or fried. But when pierogis can come with sweet filling (yea, even blueberry cheese – barf!), gyoza is strictly savory – meat (mostly pork), cabbage, garlic and what not. I normally cook mine like this: dump a bunch of frozen gyoza in a skillet, add some water, cover and simmer until all the water is gone. Then splash some sesame oil and fry until they stick to the pan. I like to sprinkle sesame seeds on mine during this step. Serve with a dipping sauce. If you can’t find ready-made gyoza dipping sauce, just add some lemon juice to normal soy sauce and voila. Your gyoza is ready. Just had some last night, in fact, slightly burned, because my husband was cooking.
So yes, this lowly dumpling has its own festival in Utsunomiya. Why? You see, Utsunomiya fancies itself as a “gyoza city”, which is apparently supposed to be famous for its dumplings. But as with a lot of other things in Japan, it’s just a story made up by a local tourist board, because, after all, a city must be famous for something. Anything. So for Utsunomiya gyoza it was.
The city fathers even decided that the dumpling deserved a statue in its honor. So yes, we have a gyoza sculpture (represented as a woman, of course, because if a male was to be depicted as a pudgy lump of dough filled with garlic, with crooked breasts no less, I’m sure there would be an outcry from the penis endowed part of the population.) The gyoza statue turned out so fugly, however, that the only acceptable location for it was in front of the train station, under a pedestrian walkway, discreetly hidden from most passersby by rows of buses.
Very soon the city fathers realized that gyoza was not the way to go, and set their eyes on something much more refined, like cocktails and jazz. Yes, Utsunomiya, the city for cocktails and jazz. Sophisticated nightlife and music and Utsunomiya in the same sentence. LOL. Yes, I hear you laugh. But that’s OK, I’m laughing, too.
The city fathers should have stuck with gyoza, if you ask me. Fortunately, many of Utsunomiya’s eating establishments have and that’s how the gyoza festival came to pass.
So, how do you celebrate a dumpling? By eating it, of course. In three different places in the city center (one of them right smack by the Futara shrine) the local purveyors of doughy goodness stuffed with cabbage and pork set up their stands. The average wait to get your fill of gyoza was 30 minutes, though at Min-Min (apparently the best gyoza outfit of them all, though I would certainly beg to differ) it was over an hour.
We chose a less famous gyoza shop, waited our half an hour and then dug in. How fast can you consume 12 dumplings? (There was a limit of 3 dishes per person, 4 dumplings in each dish for 100 yen). Well, it depends on how hungry you are and we very purposely skipped lunch that day.
Apart from gyoza, there was the usual hodge-podge of street food – anything from Indian curries to kebab. There was live music, a win-a-car contest from a local radio station, stuff for kids to do and other things I paid absolutely no attention to. Because that’s not why you go to a gyoza festival for. You go there to stuff your face silly with slightly burned dumplings.
And as the kebab and gyoza were decent, the live music was dreadful. The band couldn't quite decide whether their inspiration was Native American or West African.
But hey, you can't say that provincial Japan isn't all multi-culti and stuff. :)