Tochigi gyoza gained popularity in the 1990s when a survey conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications revealed that the people of Utsunomiya (the capital of Tochigi Prefecture) eat more gyoza than any other parts of the country. Upon hearing this survey result, a group of local gyoza restaurant owners established the Ustunomiya Gyoza Association and began actively promoting local gyoza. Thanks to their effort, Utsunomiya gyoza became increasingly popular not only in Utsunomiya or Tochigi Prefecture but also in other parts of Japan. People from outside Tochigi began to visit Utsunomiya, attracted by now nationally popular Utsunomiya gyoza!
It was however not an easy journey for us. The popularity of Utunomiya gyoza experienced a crisis in 2011 when Japan was hit by the Great East Earthquake. Due to its geographical proximity to Fukushima Prefecture (whose nuclear power plant suffered damage in the aftermath of the earthquake), the number of visitors to Tochigi declined. Also amid growing concern about radioactive contamination, people began to question the safety of our local food including gyoza. As a result, Utunomiya lost the status of the most popular gyoza city in Japan. This was a very sad experience for the people of Tochigi, but they did not give up! In fact, they made a tremendous amount of effort in making a public appeal to the broader public that Tochigi’s food products are safe to eat (and indeed they are safe). Also the Tochigi people did not forget to eat gyoza themselves; how can you recommend your food to others when you are not eating it? All these efforts were rewarded as Utsunomiya regained the number 1 status in national gyoza rankings in 2013! I am very proud of their achievements.
If you want to get a sense of how passionate we are about gyoza, come to the West exist of the Utsunomiya Train Station where you can find the Gyoza Statue. This is one of the most popular tourist destinations. Whenever you visit, you can find people taking photo, or sometimes even see people praying in front of the statue. Actually, I myself also prayed before taking university entrance exam. The result? Of course, I passed! We also organize a Gyoza Festival every autumn where you can try Utsunomiya Gyoza cooked by popular local gyoza restaurants.
Now, there are many ways to cook Utsunomiya gyoza. Some of my friends like to eat succulent fried gyoza, while others prefer boiled ones. You can also have them steamed. It is really up to you, but in whatever way it is cooked, we in Tochigi always eat with vinegar. But don’t worry, you are more than welcome to use soy sauce or chili oil. After all, we just want you to enjoy eating our gyoza!