Boasting dozens of restaurants and shops and the highest household consumption rate of “gyoza,” Utsunomiya, the capital of Tochigi Prefecture, has long been regarded as the capital of the Chinese dumpling as well.
But no longer.
For the first time in 16 years, the city lost its No. 1 ranking in gyoza consumption, beaten out by Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, according to a recent survey of household spending released Tuesday by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
Last year, Utsunomiya households spent on average just ¥3,737 on the dumplings, down 40 percent from a record high ¥6,133 in 2010. Meanwhile, households in Hamamatsu spent ¥4,313, down 10 percent from ¥4,754 in 2010.
For more than 20 years Utsunomiya has been known as “the city of gyoza,” attracting large numbers of dumpling-loving tourists. More than 70 eateries there, old and new, serve the dumplings, one of the nation’s most popular Chinese dishes.
But after the March disasters, when blackouts limited the hours of supermarkets, fewer dumplings got eaten, according to Takeshi Edakawa, the city official in charge of tourism.
“Since 1987, Utsunomiya topped the survey, except for 1995 when the city of Shizuoka came first,” Edakawa said.
According to the official, the popularity of gyoza in Utsunomiya is believed to date back to the end of the war, when soldiers in the Imperial Japanese Army returned home from China’s northeast region, bringing with them the recipe for the dumplings.
The city’s climate, which ranges from sizzling summers to frigid winters, also added to the dumplings’ appeal, Edakawa said. The garlic, leeks and pork they contain energize people, he said.
In addition, the region’s high production of wheat, from which the dumpling’s wrappings are made, is also believed to have helped gyoza flourish, Edakawa said.
Despite the setback, the city maintains a sanguine outlook: December’s consumption figure showed signs of a recovery.
“We hope consumption will steadily increase this year, unless something big like an earthquake happens again,” Edakawa said.