18 Jun 2010

Yumi Gyoza

I wonder how your kids would enjoy this meal. There are lots of interesting things for them to try here - grilled eggplant, teriyaki chicken pieces, tempura prawns and vegies, grilled salmon, miso soup with noodles, egg omelette, grilled steak, salad and steamed rice. Oishii!

It is, believe it or not, the kids' meal at our Kyoto ryokan. Sometime soon I'll show you what the adults were eating at the same time - ten or so courses of the most amazing foods you'll possibly ever read about - but not today. Today I want to talk about kids and food.

Firstly, some amazing news. Your children do not know the cultural heritage of their favourite foods. They also do not regard them as foreign. Some of them may even be regarded as 'comfort foods'.

Gyoza are like that in Jemimah's mind. These delicious morsels called variously pot-sticker dumplings, jiaozi, gaau or momos, are simply minced pork and vegetables wrapped in a thin dough covering with crimped edges. To Jemimah they signify home and familiarity.

In Japan they're called gyoza. The grilled ones, Jemimah's favourite type, are known as yaki gyoza. Only in our peaceful home we call them yumi gyoza. Because they're yummy, not yucky.

They're pretty easy to make. I keep gyoza wrappers in the freezer and just pull them out when I need them. More often though I use frozen packet ones. Frozen dumplings from an Asian store are one of the few convenience foods we keep in our home, and they're as yummy as the ones you get in restaurants most of the time. Perhaps the restaurants use the frozen type too. I'll wager that some of them do, in fact.

Sometimes in Japan when Jemimah had had her fill of new and exciting culinary experiences - of grilled salmon, nagaimo and nattō for breakfast and sea snails for lunch, we would head out for a meal of gyoza. After a couple of platesful of these delicious morsels she would be happy to be brave once more.

Comfort foods are like that.

What sort of foods do you eat in your home? Is your diet similar to that of your parents? Is your children's diet similar to yours? It's a funny thing you know, but kids in India and Thailand grow up eating spicy curries; kids in Bhutan eat chilli and cheese; kids in Japan eat nagaimo and nattō and kids in China eat sea cucumber. Scottish kids eat deep-fried Mars Bars; English kids eat pickled onions and mushy peas; Aussie kids eat Vegemite; and I'm told that some kids in America even eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Ewww! The amazing thing is that if you introduce your kids to these foods early enough, they'll eat them too. They might come to love them even!

The secret is to start young. It is much harder to change a child's food habits later when they're already used to peanut butter and jelly. Ugh. Harder, but not impossible though. Never assume that your kids won't like a food just because it is foreign. Remember, they won't even know that it is foreign unless you tell them. It constantly amazes me to see the foods Jemimah falls in love with. We spent hours in Japan trudging the streets one day for a packet of nori seaweed because she had an unsatisfied urge for a packet of sheets of plain green seaweed. Weird but true. Not that it is hard to purchase nori in Japan mind you, but we wanted enough for one kid for a week, not for a family for a month. Packets of nori in Japan are pretty huge we discovered.

Some kids are naturally fussy. No matter what you introduce them to, they aren't going to ever be terribly adventurous eaters. The greater variety you offer them, the more likely it is that they'll discover something they like to eat though. It is worth persevering.

The rule in our home is that you don't have to like a new food but you do have to at least try it. Just because you don't like it served one way doesn't mean you don't like it served another way, either. Sometimes you even need to taste something a few times before you come to like its flavour. Olives were like this for me. I ate an awful lot of olives before I came to enjoy them. Nowadays I love them. We all do. It took Jemimah a long time to eat sushi, but you can't keep her away from it now. Maybe it's the nori!!

The world is getting smaller. Few of my grandparents' generation travelled; most of Jemimah's will. They, like me, want to see the world, and when they do, they'll enjoy the experience all the more if they're willing to experiment with the food, if they're just willing to give it a go.

One night in Japan we were tired. We'd been walking all day and we needed to eat. We were in a land full of the most sublime food. We could have had ramen or tempura or sushi or tonkatsu or udon or unagi or okonomiyaki.

We could have had yumi gyoza.

But we didn't. We had McDonalds.

Sometimes even a kid as adventurous as Jemimah needs fries.


  1. I completely agree with you. Start them young on a variety of foods and I've also instilled the "must at least taste it" rule.

    Now I haven't managed to get them to eat seaweed and sushi, but maybe someday. Oh and I just ordered the Off the Shelf cookbook. Can't wait to get it and try it.

  2. I couldn't agree more.

    We love all kinds of food in our family. Okay, we didn't care for the Vegemite, but that is because we tried it wrong. We thought of it more like peanut butter (a lot) rather than butter (a little).

    We eat a lot of Asian food. Thai is our family favorite. We all eat spicy food thanks to the Asian and South American influences of the places we've lived.

    I think we give our children a wonderful gift when we expose them to a large variety of cultures.

  3. We too have that rule, and we too start them young, :-)
    We all eat a variety of culinary staple foods, but my oldest doesn't like the classic peanut butter sandwich, I started to eat peanut butter during my first pregnancy...
    My girls eat figs from our backyard, olives, rabbit (in Malta), lima bean soup, lentils, of course they are good at pizza (but my oldest loves my whole wheat one), they like things like shrimp, they love love love DUMPLINGS, they eat central American food such as re fried beans and anything cooked with their Maseca flower (for tortillas, pupusas, gorditas...), they even eat salads at 5 and 3, they have a broader palate than we did at their age, but since their parents are so fond of different cuisines they tend to try more, although they also have their pet peeves too (who doesn't?)

  4. Well I'm not a foodie & I was a fussy kid but we've always had the *you must at least try it* rule. Most of my boys were adventuras & had a mature palatte early on consuming oysters & olives & other expensive delicacies with relish. Liddy on the other hand, no matter what you offered her from a menu, stuck with pies & fries until she was a teen. Now she will try most things at least once. Ditz thinks sugar is a food group & is my fussiest eater but going vegetarian she has been sent to sort out menus & cooking & she is doing lots of rice & veggies with various sauces but when time allows experiments with a variety of things. Mind you, even though I'm not a foodie, we've rarely stuck to meat & 3 veg. I prefer to chat about the history of food than actually eat it & they grew up on stories of what we ate overseas so...yeah, the kids are quite experimental, even Ditz, & far more so than I was ~ & not for want of trying on my parents part. My mother is a brilliant cook but my tactile issues include food. Some of us are just odd that way ☺

  5. We eat way differently than most of our neighbors! We LOVE sushi [they tend to call it "bait"] and anything really, really spicy!

  6. Yes, the influence starts with the parents love for good food! I think we all come across certain foods that our taste buds don't succumb to. But I am really pleased that my son (9) knows what is good food and chooses it and wants to be a chef because he is inspired.

    My daughter (5) is still learning but will almost eat anything I put in front of her. She loves strong flavours like ginger, garlic, onion, feta, sundried tomatoes.

    Food is great, we love good food around here!

    But we still like to have our cake and eat it! xxx

  7. I'm back, because while I was vacuuming and tidying I began to think about my own upbringing as a child. We didn't have a lot of money when I was little and now that I think about it Mum would have to choose very carefully our fruit and vegies each week.

    My Mum is a fantastic cook and I just appreciated her a whole lot more for giving us healthy and creative meals with not much to choose from.

    Today we are making homemade gourmet pizzas, true Italian style, my husbands idea last night. YAY!

  8. I too started early with my kids. Living in Chicago at the time, with food as a major part of its culture, I swiftly became indoctrinated in the foodie life and loved every step.

    There is nothing they won't try once and perhaps twice later on. For me, this is a small success. :)

  9. What you said last is so true. When I was in Japan in my college days, I had to have some fries sometimes. And my Japanese friends' idea of eating out is Italian food. I'm Chinese by birth.

    I try to expose my kids to different ethnic food and they are great about trying new thing and like most things...except sashimi which I love.

  10. Deep fried Mars Bars?? Now that takes the cake! What happened to Haggis??
    We do eat fairly plainly but I admit to loving food and being prepared to try almost anything! My children are becoming more adventurous and will try other things but since Dad is a meat and three veg. man it is sometimes a battle to get HIM to try things!
    As mentioned before, I would love to do some Asian cooking classes some time in the hazy future.....after home schooling.

  11. Growing up, Kameoka was our sister city. My Dad was vice mayor of our town and one year on a city delegation we got to go over as guests of Kameoka. We were treated like royalty, and I remember trying a whole host of foods. Still to this day though, pot stickers (dumplings) are my absolute favorite. I fell in love with them over there and we kept up the Japanese food once we returned back to the States.

    Your story about nori and not being able to find it in small quantities reminds me of the HUGE box of it that our new friends in Japan sent us home with. My Dad's love for nori was discovered when he went to hand out his business card to a Japanese city official, but instead handed him a packet of nori (he carried the nori in his shirt pocket alongside of his business card).

    Now to comment about kids and food ;). Ideally I'd love for us to eat more variety of food, but I'm moreso pro peace at the table (it is better to eat a morsel of yuck and have peace then to have a feast and have strife -- loosely quoting a proverb). With dinner being at the bewitching hour in our home, it needs to be kept simple and nutritious. While I'd love to fix more exotic meals, I do feel we will get there once this season of having 4 littlies passes.

  12. My diet is very different these days to growing up in India because of the variety of foods here. I will eat most foods - I say most because I just cannot bring myself to eat snails:) After a few attempts of "tasting" Rebekah is now eating Sushi, yay!!! And she loves curries and all sorts of spicy things other kids around her would not! She also loves sausages and chops and roasts etc....actually come to think of it she's not as bad as I thought she was (in terms of her varied diet for her mains)...if only I could get her to eat vegies other than avocadoes, carrots and cucumbers!

  13. Lol! Avocadoes, carrots and cucumbers are Jemimah's faves as well!! Why is that, do you think?

  14. I just wanted to say Thank-you for your blogfrog friendship, thought I would stop by and check out your blog! I enjoyed reading quite a few of your posts--you have a nice blog! Best wishes-Erika:)

  15. "we call them yumi gyoza. Because they're yummy, not yucky." LOL! :D

    To answer your question, no, we eat nothing at all like my parents did (do)! I was very proud of my dad the last time he visited, though. He was very adventurous - for him.

    I love living in a place with such a variety of foods available. Maybe I'm just blessed with really good eaters, but my kids have never had a problem with most foods. They all eat veggies like crazy, and can tolerate at least as much spice as I can. I have never been a mom to cook different things for my kids - they have always eaten what ever we do (within reason, of course) - and I have always thought that was the reason they can eat such a wide variety of foods. Then again, maybe I'm just blessed...

    Having said that, when one of my children really has a dislike I don't push. Usually they eventually learh to like said food. Interestingly, one of those "can't go there" foods for my dear daughter was gyoza! She does like them now, but I wouldn't say they are a comfort food for her. She says her comfort food is lentil soup with bread and butter. :o)

  16. I am not really sure about why avocadoes, carrots and cucumbers???
    but glad to know Rebekah is in good company:)

  17. I love seeing your photos of Japan. My brother lives there, but I am yet to visit. I love the food. Even my kids love Japanese food.xo


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