Japanese food, except for sushi places (that are often not really Japanese) and one or two top class restaurants, is rarely being served in Belgium. A pity, because the Japanese cuisine is very rich and healthy. The basic component of a Japanese meal is a bowl of rice, served with side dishes like vegetables and fish. Meat only became common after the modernisation in 1868.
For present-day Japanese, rice, soy sauce and fresh seafood are the ultimate symbols of ‘Japaneseness’, symbols more powerful than the cherry blossom or the national flag in that they satisfy visceral cravings.
Today, many non-traditional dishes are on the daily menu. Some of these popular dishes aren’t even Japanese, but imported and adapted to the Japanese taste. I’m talking about curry rice (recipe in this previous post), ramen and nikuman (or butaman in Kansai) etc. Among these, gyōza is one of my favorites. Gyōza are dough dumplings, usually filled with cabbage and minced pork, optionally in combination with sesame oil and garlic. The dumplings are steamed, boiled or fried and often served as a side dish. Gyōza are usually eaten dipped in soy sauce. The word gyōza 餃子 was derived from the pronunciation of the same word in Chinese Shandong dialect, jiaozi. After all, it is originally a Chinese dish. The difference between the Chinese and Japanese snack is that jiaozi have more variety in fillings, strong-flavored seasoning and thicker dumpling wrappers than gyōza. The Chinese dish became popular in Japan after the invasion of Manchuria in 1931.
More than a million Japanese who resided in Korea, Taiwan, Manchuria and other Chinese territories under Japan’s domination, not to mention hundreds of thousands of soldiers who fought on the continent, acquired a taste for foreign food and played a critical role in its popularization in post-war Japan. (…) Returnees from Manchuria found themselves jobless in the midst of devastation and food shortages, and many embarked in the making and selling of gyōza to their hungry customers.
In Korea as well, dumplings (mandu 만두 in Korean) are pretty popular. The filling is mostly the same as Japanese gyōza, although Korean people tend to serve it in combination with kimchi or, like in this picture, as a side dish with rice cakes (tteok 떡) and vegetables.
– Cwiertka, Katarzyna Joanna. Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity, 2006.
– S. for teaching me how to make gyōza and L.B.R. for preparing those delicious Korean dishes, thank you!