ikebukuro gyoza stadium!
Superheroes have sidekicks. Batman has Robin. Chuck Norris had a pint-sized Jonathan Brandis in - wait for it - the movie Sidekicks. The Green Hornet? Kato. Well, more like Kato had the Green Hornet. But you get my point. The charismatic star of the show usually has someone silent and deadly at his side, kicking ass and taking names. Even a superior bowl of ramen can only get half the job done if it doesn’t properly fill you up before you leave the restaurant. So what do you do? You order gyoza.
Though Ikebukuro Gyoza Stadium is like the runty kid brother of the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum, it has its heart in the right place. Part of video game maker Namco’s “Namja Town” quasi-funhouse/amusement park complex (it’s in a mall of all things - a true testament to the Japanese ability to squeeze a whole lot into a small space), the gyoza “stadium” features an array of Japan’s top gyoza shops battling it out for the title of “best gyoza” in the land. The winner in this fight? Patrons, of course. Screaming kids and housewives pushing strollers, willing to pay the 300-yen admission charge for an afternoon’s dumpling (and burger and gelato) noshing.
Yup, it’s a whole lot of fun. And if you don’t take yourself too seriously, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover - while wandering around the fake post-war alleyways - that the food on offer may indeed be the finest gyoza in all the land.
Semi-comatose from Taishoken’s vaunted morisoba, I only had it in me to try one shop. Completely at random I chose Tenkou Gyoza Bou, sitting down to a combo of traditional pork and vegetables gyoza and a wild looking “ebinira” (shrimp and leek) specialty. The pork gyoza was good, only slightly better than the best I’ve had in Los Angeles Chinese shops, but the ebinira gyoza was very much a cut above, with an incredibly robust shrimp stuffed inside each piece and a grilled leek flavor permanently burnished into my brain.
I wonder what life is like for the little kids who, like sewer rats, pour into Namja Town after school everyday. “This place’s gyoza is better than that one’s,” I overheard one saying to another. I turned my head. The twerp looked all of five years old.
Namco Namja Town
2F, World Import Mart
10 am - 10 pm