Restaurateur and chef Yoshiyuki Gi has spent a lifetime working in Chinese restaurants. He grew up in the kitchen of his parent’s eatery in Yokohama’s Chinatown before working his way through Chinese restaurants in Japan and onto China. When he returned to Japan, he settled in Kyoto and opened upscale restaurant Ichi no Hunairi in a former tea house overlooking the Kamo River.
In 2010, Gi changed tactics — slightly — opening Gi Han Ebisu Do on Sanjo shopping street, a short walk west of downtown Kyoto, as well as a sister restaurant in neighboring Osaka. The focus at both of these restaurants is casual Chinese food, with a focus on dim sum, but the menu is rounded out with a mix of classic Japanese-inspired Chinese offerings including gyōza (pan-fried dumplings) and yakisoba (fried noodles).
At the Sanjo branch during lunch and dinner there’s often a line of people outside the restaurant, obscuring a window that provides a view of the kitchen and the cooks inside rolling out paper-thin skin for the dumplings. Gi’s dumplings are the result of his Yokohama upbringing and training in Shanghai. When each serving arrives, the lid is promptly removed and as the steam clears away the petit dumplings shiver inside their nearly translucent skins.
I can’t stand queuing, but I admit Gi’s dim sum, especially the xiao long bao (dumplings), or shoronpo as they are called in Japanese, are worth waiting for.
They’re delicate creatures (literally “little dragon buns”) and have to be handled with care so that the juice that simmers inside the skin isn’t lost while you transfer it from the basket to your mouth. Also, they require no condiments — savor them just as they are.
On a recent visit (after a 30-minute wait) we ordered black truffle (¥1,200) and Shanghai-style (¥900) shoronpo. On the surface there’s little to distinguish these, except for a tinge of black at the top of the truffle-filled dumplings. Wrapped inside both sets is a sensuous mix of pork meat, scallions and garlic in a fragrant soup. The black truffles held a little more intrigue, but it’s tempting — recommended even — to order a second round of both styles, especially as they come in portions of five. There is also the option of shark fin shoronpo, but I gave it a miss as it’s a taste I’ve never warmed to.
The ebi-gyōza (dumplings filled with shrimp) are daintily moulded into the shape of sea shells; they’re hefty in size but delicate in taste. With the six or seven dishes we ordered, Gi’s cooks never dropped the ball, even with the basics such as the deep-fried harumaki (spring rolls) accompanied by spicy pickled cucumber, and the yaki-nira manju (steamed bun with scallions). Chef Gi has put a lifetime of learning to good use.
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