Japan’s last standing year-round yatai (street stalls) in Fukuoka distinguish themselves with slight variations on street-food classics like oden, yakitori, ramen, and gyoza. One place might put more nira in their gyoza, another more garlic. But the gyoza at Takechan, a multigenerational family operation, taste unlike any I’ve had elsewhere: The crisp and tender wrapper yields to a garlicky-sweet silky filling made mostly from onion and a gloss of pork fat. The owners won’t share all the details of their secret recipe, but they did give me a few clues. Dozens of onions (and tears) later, I’ve come up with a recipe that’s really close.
A few notes on ingredients. Aji-no-moto, yuzu-kosho, nira, and gyoza wrappers are available from Japanese grocery stores (the dumpling wrappers at other Asian groceries may be larger and thicker). Fatback is available from most butchers, often frozen. I imagine you could substitute the small amount of fatback with a vegetable shortening and some extra seasoning to make a vegan filling, but I have yet to try it. These can be made ahead and frozen, then pan-fried right out of the freezer.
- Place a fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl. Peel and rough-chop the onions. In a food processor, grind the onions and garlic to a pulp (literally). Drain the onion pulp in the sieve, stirring occasionally to help the water drip out while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Finely chop the fatback (this is easier when it’s at least partially frozen). Pulse it in the food processor (it’s fine if there’s still a little onion in there) until it is the texture of ground meat. Set aside.
- Mash the onion around the sieve with a spoon until it barely drips anymore liquid. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, mix the onion, cornstarch, salt, msg (if using), white pepper, and ginger.
- Cook the mixture over medium low heat until it looks slightly translucent and gelatinous, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, and stir in the fatback and nila. (This filling mixture can be refrigerated for several days or used right away.) If it turns bluish, don’t fear—that just means your garlic was old.
- Prepare a small dish of water and a tray for lining up finished dumplings. Place a up a gyoza wrapper on your palm, floured side down; dip a finger in the water, and run your wet finger around the wrapper's inner edge. Place a rounded teaspoon of filling in the center. Fold the wrapper in half, making small crimps in one side as you press it into the other. If the filling oozes out one end, squeeze the excess out and press the dough closed.
- When you’ve used up all the filling, you are ready to fry (or freeze) the gyoza. (If freezing, line them up on a tray with a little space in between; once frozen solid, pack in an airtight bag or container.)
- You will likely need to cook these in batches. Heat a nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, and slick with just enough sesame oil to swirl around the pan. When the oil shimmers, add a single layer of gyoza, crimped edge facing up. When the bottom of the gyoza is golden, about 1 minute, flip them onto the flat, uncrimped side. When that side is barely golden, add about ¼” of water to the pan and cover.
- Cook, covered, until most of the water evaporates, about 5 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until the pan is dry and the gyoza can be easily lifted (if they stick, give them more time).
- Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce by combining vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar. Serve the gyoza hot, with dipping sauce, and yuzu-kosho to taste.
Hannah Kirshner is a Brooklyn-based food stylist and writer (and lapsed artist who sometimes illustrates her own stories). She's been raising chickens, obsessing about Japan, and throwing dinner parties since her childhood in the Pacific Northwest.