Heading to Utsunomiya, Tochigi prefecture, there really is only one choice for a snack… And for gyoza fans, there’s never been a better time, says Stack Jones.

The long hot summer is but a mere memory as autumn has finally arrived. But don’t worry, the cool weather is perfect for enjoying many of the warm regional and seasonal foods that Japan has to offer.

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in Utsunomiya, and finally got to feast on the food that the city has become famous for. Gyoza!

Legend has it that soldiers who returned home from China after the second world war brought with them dumpling recipes. It’s said that they also began to open restaurants that specialized in the ‘new’ delight. Whether that story is a reality or a myth is not important. What is important is that Utsunomiya has an enormous selection of gyoza dishes that one can sample at a variety of cozy eateries scattered throughout the city.

Gyoza restaurant, Utsunomiya

Utsunomiya is full of gyoza shops, you’ll find them on almost every corner

If you happen to find yourself in Utsunomiya, and would like to sample some of Japan’s finest gyoza offerings, you won’t have to travel all over the city to do so. And you won’t be disappointed, no matter where you place an order. All of the quaint little shops serve their one-of-a-kind delights – at remarkably reasonable prices too.

One of my favorite gyoza eateries is a stone’s throw from the train station’s police box. It’s called Gyoza Kan. At Gyoza Kan, one can sample a dozen different variations of gyoza for a mere 800 yen.

Another famous gyoza restaurant is Ming Ming’s, which is located near the Parco Shopping Center, just a few blocks west of the station. I love Kirasse, too, a gyoza restaurant located on the first floor of the Don Quixote store. Kirasse’s menu boasts more than two-dozen varieties of gyoza; there’s a dumpling dish that’s sure to satisfy anyone.

If you find that you just can’t get enough of Utsunomiya’s gyoza dishes, there is also a Gyoza Matsuri that occurs during the first weekend of November (have a look at some photos of a previous festival). During the festival there are endless varieties of gyoza available to eat. One of the most enjoyable events that occurs during this festival is the gyoza eating competition.

Imagine lines of challengers and previous champions scarfing down gyoza as fast as they can in the same manner one would devour hotdogs during the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest and you’ll have a pretty good idea how it goes.

Festivities during the event also include several stages located around the city that will showcase jazz musicians. So, scarf down a plate of gyoza while listening to a great saxophone solo, and then go back for some more!

The city is so passionate about gyoza that it even has a statue of Venus rising from the ashes of a gyoza wrapper.

Finally, keep in mind that after sampling some of the cities finest, you’ll be spoiled for all of eternity as far as gyoza goes. You’ll find it difficult to enjoy the common gyoza served at most noodle houses that are scattered about Japan. You have been warned…

Text and photos by Stack Jones

Love gyoza but no time to travel? Have a look at this feature on gyoza in Tokyo.