Gyozas are no longer a boring side dish. The Japanese dumplings are now the menu highlight of restaurants that specialise in the popular pot stickers.
These are Gyoza King at Orchid Hotel, Gyoza Ya at Robinsons Orchard and the Osaka Ohsho chain, which has four outlets here.
The dumplings, generally sold in a set of five or six, are filled with minced pork and vegetables.
Unlike other dumplings that are completely boiled, steamed or fried, gyozas have a crispy pan-fried base and its upper half is steamed. It is normally served with dipping sauce of either vinegar or soya sauce, with julienned ginger.
The Akashi Group's chef-owner Mervin Goh, 41, who owns Gyoza Ya which opened in February, says: "Gyozas have always been seen as the bridesmaid to ramen.
"But people are growing to like gyozas more and the attention is moving to them. So far, response has been very good. In our first month of opening, we sold almost 50,000 pieces of gyozas."
New varieties of handmade gyozas are in the works, and Mr Goh is experimenting with seafood ingredients, miso and char siew.
Gyoza King, which opened in November last year, sells about 800 to 900 gyozas a day at its 18-seat outlet in Tanjong Pagar. To differentiate itself from other gyoza outlets, owner Keisuke Takeda, 44, leverages on its ramen expertise and uses flavourful ramen broth (pork, chicken or crab) in cooking the dumplings.
Gyoza restaurant chain Osaka Ohsho, which opened here in November 2012, has grown from one outlet to four in Singapore. Each sells about 3,000 gyozas a day.
Gyozas remain the signature item at Osaka Ohsho and also feature in its set meals.
Next month, it will open a new outlet in Bugis Junction, which will feature a wider range of gyoza, says its business planning manager, Ms Keiko Nakamura.
The chain, which was established in Japan in 1969, is run by Japan Food Holdings here.
The home-grown company owns other restaurant brands here, such as ramen restaurants Menya Musashi and Ajisen.
While these gyoza specialists are dishing out the dumplings, ramen restaurants are also jazzing up their dumpling offerings with toppings and special sauces.
Ippudo Singapore's signature Hakata- style gyozas (bite-sized dumplings) come in variations that include chilli oil and a citrusy ponzu sauce with grated radish; while Bishamon Zero, one of the brands in Ramen Champion's Great World City outlet, features gyozas topped with a mentaiko sauce as well as gyozas done in the same style as okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake, with a special sauce, mayonnaise and bonito flakes.
Uma Uma Ramen at Forum The Shopping Mall, which opened in July 2012, features "one-bite" gyozas to complement its ramen.
Mr Russell Yu, 27, director of Iki Concepts which owns Uma Uma Ramen, says: "Most times, food items are developed and refined based on whole instead of bite-sized portions. We feel that the smaller one-bite gyozas enable us to better show this balance while being unique. Our gyoza skin is specially cut for us and made to our specifications by our noodlemaker."
He adds: "Our gyozas tend to be filled more with vegetables than meat, with the intention of creating much lighter, sweeter gyozas."
On pairing gyoza with ramen, Mr Yu notes: "It is very common in Japan for diners to order ramen with gyoza and a bowl of rice for their meal.
"I think the pairing goes well because of the contrasting textures between the soupiness of the ramen and the crunchiness of the gyoza."
Where: Four outlets at Raffles City Shopping Centre, 252 North Bridge Road, B1-75; Westgate, 3 Gateway Drive, 03-09; nex, 23 Serangoon Central, 03-06/07; and Bukit Panjang Plaza, 1 Jelebu Road, 01-36
Open: Various opening hours
What: First set up in 1969 in Japan, Osaka, the chain opened here in November 2012 and now has four outlets specialising in the Japanese dumplings.
They are served in portions of six pieces ($3.90) or 12 pieces ($7.80) and take about 4 to 41/2 minutes to cook. Customised grills control the temperature at 95 deg C to ensure a crisp skin. The gyozas also come as a part of set meals (from $9.90), with dishes such as mapo tofu, fried chicken, and sweet and sour pork.
Next month, it will open a fifth outlet in Bugis Junction, featuring more types of gyozas.
Where: The Heeren, 260 Orchard Road, Robinsons Orchard, B1-02A
Open: 11.30am to 10pm daily
Info: Call 6737-5581
What: Get your fix of pork or vegetable gyozas ($4.80 for five pieces) - pan-fried or boiled - at two-month-old Gyoza Ya in the basement of Robinsons Orchard. The gyozas are made fresh at the 70-seat casual restaurant using a machine from Japan, which adds a consistent amount of filling into the thin gyoza skins that are made in Japan. Its chef crimps each gyoza again to ensure it is sealed tightly before cooking it for six to seven minutes.
Other menu highlights include Jya Jya Men ($6.50), which is like a Japanese version of the Chinese noodle dish zhajiang mian. It comes with springy noodles, sliced scallions and a thick gravy of minced pork and miso. The best way to eat it is mixed with white vinegar and chilli oil.
Side dishes include crispy chicken karaage ($3.80) and soboro ankake tofu (fried tofu with minced meat, $4.80).
Where: Bishamon Zero, Great World City, 1 Kim Seng Promenade, 01-22
Open: 11.30am to 10.30pm daily
Info: Call 6235-1295
What: Ramen may be the must-have item at Great World City's Ramen Champion, but the gyozas are also not to be missed. These are not just gyoza with chicken and pork filling - they also come with special toppings. The okonomiyaki gyoza ($7 for five pieces) is topped with bonito flakes while the mentaiko gyoza ($6.50 for five pieces) comes with a mentaiko sauce. The gyozas are cooked for 41/2 minutes with a Japanese gyoza machine and sesame oil to ensure a crispy base.
UMA UMA RAMEN
Where: Forum The Shopping Mall, 583 Orchard Road, 01-41/42/43
Open: 11.30am to 10pm daily
Info: Call 6235-0855 or go to umaumaramen.com
What: Aptly called One Bite Gyoza ($8 for 10 pieces), the pot stickers from Uma Uma Ramen are bite-sized delights. They are cooked for about five minutes on a slow, consistent fire to maintain a crispy base without losing the moisture in the gyoza. For the best of both worlds, get the gyoza lunch set (additional $4) with your ramen of choice and a non- alcoholic beverage.
Where: Four outlets at Mandarin Gallery, 333A Orchard Road, 04-02/03/04; UE Square, 207 River Valley Road, 01-55/56; Asia Square Tower 2, 12 Marina View, 02-01; and Westgate, 3 Gateway Drive, 03-03
Open: Various opening hours
What: While the original Hakata-style gyoza ($7 for five pieces, available at Mandarin Gallery, UE Square and Westgate) is the ramen chain's best-selling item, there are more variations for diners to choose from, in which the accompanying sauces come with a twist.
The Asia Square outlet features a Spicy Boiled Gyoza ($8 for five pieces), which is Ippudo's original gyoza served with a special sauce and chilli oil; and deep-fried gyozas ($4 for five pieces).
Over at Westgate, which also sells the Spicy Boiled Gyoza, other options include the Oroshi Ponzu Gyoza ($8 for five pieces), which comes topped with grated radish and spring onions and is served with a citrus-based sauce; and Miso Dare Gyoza ($8 for five pieces), which is served with a special blended miso sauce.
Where: Orchid Hotel, 1 Tras Link, 01-15
Open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6 to 10.30pm daily
Info: Call 6604-6674
What: Owned by popular ramen chain Ramen Keisuke Tokyo, this five-month-old outlet specialises in three types of gyoza named after its sister ramen outlets - Tonkotsu King pork-filled gyoza cooked with tonkotsu ramen soup; Tori King pork-filled gyoza cooked with chicken ramen soup; and Keisuke prawn and pork-filled gyoza cooked with crab ramen soup. Each set meal ($13.90) comes with five pot stickers of your choice. These are cooked in ramen broth for extra flavour. Complete the meal with two side dishes from eight options, which include stir-fried eggplant with miso and deep-fried tofu with minced pork gravy.