Given my Chinese descent, the first dumplings I ever ate were Chinese ones — wontons, potstickers, and boiled dumplings. But I've also ordered gyoza at Japanese restaurants, which seem similar enough to potstickers.
Are all these Asian dumplings essentially the same, especially since I've seen them labeled as "Gyoza Potstickers" at stores like Trader Joe's? We asked cookbook author Andrea Nguyen, who wrote a whole cookbook on Asian dumplings, about two of the most popular ones: gyoza and potstickers!
The Origin of Asian Dumplings
Andrea Nguyen says the Chinese were the original inventors of Asian dumplings, called "zhao ji" in Mandarin. Zhao ji is a Northern Chinese specialty from above the Yangtze River.
Zhao ji starts with a wheat flour dough that is rolled out and stuffed with a meat or vegetable filling. These dumplings can be boiled, steamed, pan fried, or even deep fried.
How Potstickers Were Invented
How potstickers, a specific type of Chinese dumpling, originated is a fun story: It's rumored that a chef intended to boil zhao ji in a wok, but he walked away and the water boiled off. The zhao ji stuck to the wok and crisped up, producing what we now know as the potsticker, which in Chinese literally means "stuck to the wok."
The popular method for making potstickers now is what Nguyen calls the "fry-steam-fry," where the dumplings are first lightly browned in some oil, water is added to the pan, which is then covered to steam and cook the dumpling filling, then the pan is uncovered to let the water cook off and the dumplings pan fry until crispy on the outside.
Potstickers (which technically should be broken out into two words: pot stickers) tend to be medium-sized dumplings, usually eaten in two to three bites. They have fairly thick, often homemade wrappers that crisp up nicely on the outside while still being soft and encasing the juicy filling inside.
Potstickers are called the gateway dumpling (for good reason), as they are present on many Chinese restaurant menus here in the U.S., and are even known as "Peking ravioli" in the Boston area!
The History of Gyoza
Now that we've established what Chinese potstickers are, what are gyoza? Turns out that the Japanese borrowed this culinary idea from the Chinese. Japanese soldiers were exposed to zhao ji during World War II when they were in Manchuria, which is in Northern China.
Upon their return home, they remembered and sought to recreate the delicious dumplings they had eaten in China. The relationship between gyoza and zhao ji is such a close one that gyoza is actually the Japanese pronunciation of zhao ji!
How Gyoza and Potstickers Are Different
Japanese gyoza do have some general, subtle differences from potstickers. They are usually made from pre-fabricated wrappers that are thinner, smaller, and more delicate, and the filling is more finely textured.
Gyoza are usually smaller than a potsticker, about one to two bites. Although they're prepared in much the same manner as potstickers with the "fry-steam-fry" method, the thinner skin crisps up more and the focus is more on the filling.