By Bonson Lam
When a friendly young man opens the door to an eatery and tells you that they are now having happy hour on beers at ¥330 a mug, you walk in. The fact that this eatery is also a two-time winner in a countrywide gyoza (fried dumpling) competition is simply a bonus. Chao Chao Gyoza is a cheap and cheerful gyoza and beer chain that originated in Osaka but now has stores all over Japan, from Hokkaido all the way to Okinawa. This is their Kyoto branch, tucked away in an alley just off Sanjo-dori. It's a tiny space with seats at a counter bar and just a handful of tables and chairs, and at 6 in the evening, it was full.
The winning gyoza in question is a row of mini gyozas strung together. Fresh and house made, it is crispy on the outside with little bursts of meaty goodness with every bite. It costs ¥600 for 16 pieces, albeit sized smaller than your average dumpling.
If a pork filling doesn't rock your boat, there are many other options to chose from. Shrimp and mushroom are good common alternatives, but ginger, kujo Welsh onion or curry? It has to be tried to be judged. There are also special vegetarian options such as the yuba gyoza made from freeze-dried tofu wrapped with a soy milk skin. Or you can have gyoza with toppings like tomato sauce and Mozzarella cheese, or grated yam and Japanese horseradish.
For added savings, Chao Chao recommends their set which comes with a 16 piece signature dish, a choice of additional gyozas, a side dish and a beer, all for ¥1490.
The wait staff are English-language friendly, as is the menu. It even has instructions on how to partake the morsels. First, fill the small saucers with a soy sauce base and bean paste sauce. Then mix in red chilli pepper oil and miso into the sauce. They advise you to sample the gyozas first before liberally dipping it into the sauce, which is how I like it. So with a beer (or two) in hand, it's a perfect meal to end a day of sightseeing.
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