CHAO CHAO - The Best Damn Gyoza in Kyoto

Quaint, unassuming, and often packed with a line out the door, this traditional gyoza shop is slinging every flavor of dumpling you can imagine.

FOOD

3/30/20234 min read

Kyoto – a city where tradition meets innovation, where every corner holds a culinary story waiting to be told. Today, we're diving deep into the heart of Shijo Kawaramachi, a district that pulses with life, culture, and a culinary gem that's about to steal the spotlight.

It's March in Japan - cold enough for a jacket and even a few handwarmers. After miles of walking and hours of exploration in Nishiki market, a couple of weary travelers head to the side streets away from all the noise to look for a hole-in-the-wall spot for some hot food and a little comfort. There, with an unassuming facade and simple black letters lit up in the fading sunlight, a beacon of hope emerges...

Welcome, my friends, to Chao Chao Gyoza Shijo Kawaramachi. This isn't your typical gyoza joint; it's a pilgrimage for taste adventurers, a haven where gyoza takes center stage, and where the fusion of flavors mirrors the very soul of Kyoto. On the outside - it's nothing to write home about. But from the moment you enter, you know you've made a good decision.

The team enthusiastically welcomes you in to an experience you won't soon forget, but not before the smell of fried dumplings already greeted you at the door. Ah, gyoza – the unsung heroes of Japanese cuisine. Here at Chao Chao, they're crafting these little pockets of joy with a level of dedication that's both inspiring and delicious. The classic pork gyoza – a thing of beauty. Sizzling on the pan, they develop that perfect crust on one side, while the other side remains tender and juicy. A balance that's hard to nail, but these guys (or gals, rather) have it down to an art.

And for the herbivores among us, fear not! Chao Chao's got a spread of vegetarian gyoza that'll make you question your carnivorous tendencies. Bursting with colors and flavors, these veggie delights embrace Kyoto's love for all things fresh and natural. The mashed potato gyoza are insane, not to mention the shibazuke (pickled eggplant with ume plum vinegar) which are the perfect burst sweet salty and acidic with a beautiful purple color.

But wait, it gets better – they're throwing fusion into the mix. Teriyaki chicken gyoza? Kimchi pork? Egg yolk and cheese? Chicken wing gyoza? These guys are rewriting the rules and smashing culinary boundaries. It's like a passport stamped with flavors from around the world, but firmly rooted in Kyoto's soil. The best part is, you can opt for pan deep, deep fried, or boiled depending on your gyoza proclivities.

And let's not forget the sides – the salads that crunch with locally sourced ingredients, the teas that transport you to ancient tea ceremonies, and the modern twists on the infamous Japanese sours that say, "Yeah, we respect tradition, but we're also moving forward." There is something on this menu for everyone, and because the prices are so affordable, you can try some oddball flavor combinations you may otherwise never have gone for.

Aside from the mountain of gyoza options, the drink list itself is enviable. Whether ice cold cocktails in the summer or steaming hot ones in winter, Chao Chao has your beverage needs 100% covered. Matcha green tea sour? Of course they have that.

While culinary excellence often comes at a steep price, Chao Chao Gyoza is a pleasant exception. Despite its prime location and reputation, the menu remains surprisingly affordable, allowing both locals and travelers to indulge in its gastronomic offerings without straining their wallets. A set of gyoza will run you less than $4. A cocktail about $3. And if you're somehow still hungry after all that, well, not to worry. Dessert gyoza is a thing (at least at Chao Chao it is).

So if you end up wandering Kyoto one night, exhausted from the whirlwind that is Nishiki market, do yourself a favor. Head over to Chao Chao Gyoza, and if there's a line, know that it will be worth the wait. In a city where history meets innovation, where every bite is an ode to culture, Chao Chao Gyoza Shijo Kawaramachi is a pilgrimage you must make. A culinary haven where tradition dances with experimentation, and where gyoza reigns supreme. So go on, my friends, take that bite, and let the flavors of Kyoto envelop you. -M&A