Trader Joe’s annual Pumpkin Madness in October is always my favorite time of the year, if just for the sheer thrill of seeing which products Joe decides to green light – but I also love it because once those gates are thrown open they stay open for the rest of the year. With the pumpkin products receding into the distance behind us, we now find ourselves fording the wild rapids of Holiday product season.
|What it is:||Gyoza filled with seafood paste.|
|Price:||$3.99 for a 7.6 oz. bag|
|Worth it:||No. There are tastier potstickers out there.|
We don’t usually see anything quite as crazy as we do in October over the holidays, but Trader Joe’s still manages to slip one or two out there products in when no one is looking – like chocolate milk mixed with wine.
What surprised me most, as I was perusing the aisles, was this extremely unusual holiday (???) offering – Trader Joe’ Seafood Sriracha Potstickers with Shrimp and Crab.
Seafood potstickers don’t generally scream “Christmas”, but hat hasn’t stopped TJ’s from wrapping these dumplings up in red and green dough. Let the festive, merry colors of crimson red and evergreen greet you in this mixed meat, Asian-style, seafood dumpling. It’s a weird choice, sure, but there’s no denying they’ll fit right in at the annual Christmas potluck. The rest of the year, assuming these stay around the rest of the year, I guess they’ll just be weirdly out of place.
These potstickers are very similar to Trader Joe’s many other gyoza offerings – namely they are cheap, tasty and easy to cook. Despite the difference in color, each dumpling is filled with same filling – a combination of shrimp, crab, mung bean noodles, and water chestnuts. These flavors all blend into each other, however, so don’t go expecting big, tasty pieces of either crab or shrimp. Instead, the ingredients have been blended into a uniform paste that has been pumped into each casing. This makes these gyoza much less substantial than their pork and chicken brothern, and gives them a consistency much closer to a classic, mashed potato filled potsticker. Presumably, that’s why they left “gyoza” off the label and went with “potsticker” – although it makes the choice to call the whole-wheat and squash version “gyoza” even more bizarre.
In any case, if you don’t mind the soft texture, and weird coloration, these potstickers are reasonably tasty and a welcome return to form over the dreaded wholewheat version debuted last month. The inclusion of some sriracha spice in the filling is a nice touch, although TJ’s is careful to keep the heat in the mild range band. If you want to spice these up, you’ll want to bring some TJ’s Sriracha hot sauce or cilantro Green Dragon hot sauce – or even a nice chili sauce of your own.
Personally, I thought these were fine, but nothing to write home about. The seafood doesn’t really standout in the prepared product, and without that it’s just a sort of mildly, inoffensive dumping. Trader Joe’s has a LOT of gyoza varieties to choose among nowadays, from the mundane to the adventerous. Once you get past the eye-catching colors, there isn’t anything to set these potstickers ahead of the pack.
Would I Recommend Them: Not really. They’re fine, but there are better gyoza on the shelf.
Would I Buy Them Again: No, I prefer the chicken and pork versions.
Final Synopsis: A good appetizer for a holiday-themed party, but not much more.
Trade Joe’s has a variety of gyoza, from the ordinary chicken and pork gyoza, to the more adventurous thai vegetable and green curry shrimp gyoza. I may have preferred some over others, but personal taste aside they’re all pretty great.
|What it is:||Very weird gyoza|
|Price:||$3.79 for a 16 oz. sack|
|Worth it:||No. A weird mix of flavors.|
The number of success the Trader Joe’s R&D department has racked up in this category seems to have egged them on to Kanyean levels of hubris. Surely only the iron-clad belief that your every move is golden could lead someone to put out a product titled, and I quote, Whole Wheat Butternut Squash Gyoza. That is simply a combination of words that shouldn’t appear next to each in print, let alone on an ingredient label.
In short, out of all of Trader Joe’s delicious gyoza offerings, Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Butternut Squash Gyoza simply does not work.
Let me start by first reiterating my stance that I think experimentation with food is one of finest endeavors undertaken by man. By all means, let us mix, match and blend weird things together. Just make sure you taste test it first before releasing it to the general populous. There are certain elements that make a gyoza (or potsticker) delicious, and to just discard those things is to invite disaster.
Take, for instance, the dough of the dumpling. All of Trader Joe’s other gyoza stick to the same, standard glutinous wheat dough wrapping – and for good reason. More than anything, more than even whatever contents it wraps up, the doughy exterior of a dumpling is what makes it delicious. Chewy, yielding and supple, with a bit of pan-fried crisp along the bottom edge, this is what makes a well-cooked gyoza simply irresistible. Swapping out that award-winning dough for a whole-wheat based variety may be a more healthsome choice, but it simply doesn’t work as well as a dumpling.
The whole wheat wrapping is much thicker and more textured than the usual gyoza dough, and tastes of the bread-y nuttiness of a slice of whole wheat bread. It’s not bad, to be honest, but it certainly doesn’t scratch that gyoza itch like their other offerings.
If the filling of the gyoza where something more usual, I might be able to find a place in my heart (and freezer) or these pot stickers. Unfortunately, they decided to fill them with a strange combination of mashed butternut squash, whole edamame beans, carrots, sweet potato and Japanese green pumpkin (kabocha). The result is a squishy, sweet squash mash with big beans in it. It’s not bad – on its own – but it’s hard to imagine something more wildly different from what is normally put in gyoza. Instead of a filling with a bit of body, maybe something savory or rich, you basically get sweet mashed potatoes – mashed potatoes with whole soy beans stuck in ’em.
It’s a very, very odd combination, and it didn’t work for me at all. Between the weird dumpling and the weird filling there just wasn’t anywhere to get my footing. I couldn’t even figure out a condiment that worked well with them. Typical gyoza dressings (soy sauce, vinegar, red pepper sauce…) simply did not work with these lumpy hybrids – the sweetness of the stuffing, and the squishy consistency, made them clash with everything I tried. Maybe if I had some spare gravy on hand I could have whipped up a batch and eaten them like an Asian-fusion Thanksgiving side.
Overall, I just found these baffling. While the sweet squash filling is fine on its own, it’s not what I’m looking for in a gyoza, and the whole-wheat wrapping feels completely out of left field. Maybe if these had been marketed as a type of whole wheat pirogi, and the soy beans had been left out, it would have been a bit easier to understand. As it is, unless you’re holding that Asian-fusion Thanksgiving dinner I mentioned, I can’t think of a reason why you should pick these up.
Would I Recommend Them: No. They’re not awful… but they’re just not all that good either.
Would I Buy Them Again: Only to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.
Final Synopsis: A swing…and a miss.
I’ve been going around eating every type of gyoza Trader Joe’s has to offer, but only now am I finally sitting down with their Gyoza Dipping Sauce. Why the delay, you ask? Because I’m stupid. Thanks for pointing that out – now I feel terrible.
What is there to say about a simple gyoza dipping sauce? We’ll, for one, it’s not what you’d expect. A traditional gyoza dipping sauce, the type commonly used in China and Japan, is essentially a simple mixture of rice vinegar and soy sauce, occasionally touched with a bit of chili pepper. If you happen to have it laying around, it takes about two seconds to make up for yourself and costs almost nothing.
Trader Ming’s gyoza dipping sauce keeps the soy sauce and rice vinegar, but takes it in a different direction by adding load of additional spices – include sugar (in the form of “evaporated cane juice”), ginger, garlic, sesame seeds and cilantro. The result is a much thicker sauce, where the soy sauce and vinegar are pushed into the background by the strong flavors of the other spices. The result is something much more like what you’d get after mixing up a bunch of sauces at a Mongolian BBQ place than a traditional gyoza sauce. The cilantro, in particular, is an intriguing addition. We’re not talking about just a little bit of cilantro here either. Pick up the bottle and you’ll actually see the whole flakes of cilantro floating around ready to make you go “Wow, that really tastes like cilantro.”
None of this is unwarranted in Chinese cooking – cilantro, ginger and garlic all have important places in the pantheon of Asian cuisine – but it does make for a strong tasting, and somewhat unusual dipping sauce. I actually prefer the simpler vinegar/soy sauce concoction to this as the ginger and cilantro in particular really come to the fore of the sauce, and linger on the tongue long after. This, combined with the thickness of the sauce, threaten to overwhelm the taste of your pot stickers if used in more than very small quantities.
Of course, you’re not limited to using this on dumpling, if you don’t want. TJ also suggests trying it with egg rolls or, vaguely, “any Asian food”. While I’m not sure I would go that far, it certainly might work on salads, or with any number of Asian fusion dishes – banh mi, or Korean style tacos, perhaps.
Overall, however, this one feels like a miss for Trader Joe’s. Regular gyoza dipping sauce is simple and tasty by itself that TJ would have to offer something pretty special to lure me into making this a regular purchase. The sauce they delivered certainly has an unique taste – but not necessarily a superior one.
Would I Recommend It: Not really, unless you have some Asian-Mexican fusion recipes in mind.
Would I Buy It Again: No – I’ll stick to mixing soy sauce and rice vinegar, thanks.
Final Synopsis: A curiously thick and cilantro heavy dipping sauce
I’ve been holding off on these because, to be honest, an all vegetable gyoza just didn’t sound very appealing. I love vegetables, and there are salads I would kill for, but a bunch of mushed up steamed veggies just didn’t sound like something that was going to satisfy. At most, I was expecting something that might make a satisfactory hors d’oeuvre, to be absentmindedly pushed down the gullet while waiting for the real fare to come out. It was to my surprise that I found these Thai Vegetable Gyozas hold their own with any of Trader Joe’s other excellent gyoza.
I’m routinely shocked when I find a vegan food that isn’t merely palatable, but makes me want to go back for seconds. I suppose that speaks to my ignorance, because we’re lucky enough to live in a world where tasty vegan food is on the rise – particularly, as we’ve seen before, on the shelves of Trader Joe’s. It’s even more surprising considering that it’s a fast food that cooks from frozen in about 5 minutes. That’s a pretty good trick – of course, on the other hand, Trader Joe’s Thai Vegetable Gyoza aren’t really vegan at all.
Scour the bag all you might, you won’t find the telltale “V” TJ’s uses to demarcate their vegan offerings. That’s not because of the ingredients, which are all plants and plant-derived, but because of the processing facility. While laudable that these gyoza, like the Thai shrimp gyoza, are handmade in Thailand, their manufactured on the same machines that handle fish and shellfish – meaning they can’t give the bag that little happy “V”. I dare say that depending on which way your morals fall, that might still be vegan enough for some vegans out there.
Piscine allegations notwithstanding, there’s no reason these gyoza should be limited to only the Vegan. Trader Joe’s Thai Vegetable Gyoza aren’t merely the “meat-free” version of a tastier gyoza, like some vegetarian fare tends to be, but are actually tasty pot stickers in their own right.
Each plump dumpling is stuffed with a filling of white cabbage, carrot, chive, radish, green onion and white onion – plus a dash of ginger, garlic and soy sauce. As you might guess from all the members of the Allium family in there, these are pungent little suckers – packing enough onion and garlic to imbue the minced cabbage with flavorful (if kiss-averting) taste. The touch of ginger and soy sauce lighten things up, giving the dumpling a zippy, slightly exotic taste. The body of the gyoza, which I was worried about being too meager, actually makes for a nice chewy mouthful thanks to the cabbage and carrot filling. Of course, the gyoza also benefits from the same excellent skin of Trader Joe’s other gyoza – thin, chewy, and pleasant to the bite.
What I really liked about these is that they have a very different flavor and mouth feel from the pork or chicken potstickers, which tend to be rather samey. By taking away the meat, it really gives the gyoza a chance to showcase a different, but still satisfying taste. While I might not be switching over to these gyoza exclusively, I could definitely see buying a bag of these for every bag of pork gyoza I get. Served alongside each other, they would add a level of depth that a simple plate of one or the other wouldn’t have by itself.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – but with a caveat to vegans.
Would I Buy It Again: Yup, they fill in
Final Synopsis: Nice gyoza that satisfy even without the meat.
Did you know Trader Joe’s sells Thai Shrimp Gyoza? I sure didn’t, and stood staring at these flat-footed for several moments when I stumbled on them the other day. Everyone knows I think TJ’s gyoza are excellent – and here was an even cooler looking bag with an even more exotic sounding gyoza in it!
Guys, you know I had to take a look. Even if someone had been, like, “Don’t do it, man! I’m you from the future – those gyoza are bad news!” I would have been all like, “Psssh – keep your drama to yourself, I’m rocking these gyoza all the way home.” And you know what? I would now be sure that that hypothetical future version of myself was a fraud – because these gyoza are awesome!
We talked about what makes a gyoza a gyoza last time, and these Thai shrimp gyoza deliver exactly the same, high-quality, pan-fryable gyoza goodness. The difference, of course, is in the filling. A generous mixture of shrimp, white cabbage, chives and green onion, plus spices, stuffs these tender dumplings of goodness. The result is a gyoza with a little more chewiness to it than the chicken or pork gyoza, but a very similar mildly savory, meaty taste. Shockingly similar in fact. Despite the top-billing of the shrimp, there is almost no discernible shrimp taste to these at gyoza at all. In a blind taste test, I would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the chicken gyoza and these shrimp gyoza.
That’s a bit surprising, because while the shrimp has been rather finely chopped it’s still easy to notice the shrimpy texture. This is not the unpleasant lumpiness of the 14 Shrimp Nuggets I gave a shot a while back, but just a sort of pleasant “Oh, that’s a bit of shrimp” experience.
If you’re worried these dumplings would be too “shrimpy” for you, that means you don’t have to worry. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a strongly executed bit of shrimp to enhance your seafood dinner, these aren’t going to do the job. That’s a little strange, but doesn’t detract from the overall goodness of the dish.
Even weirder than this, is why these gyoza are being made in Thailand in the first place. Unlike, say, Trader Joe’s Thai Lime Shrimp Skewers, these shrimp actually are from Thailand. At least, the gyoza are hand made there at any rate, and the shrimp come from off either the Chinese or Thai coast. This is actually a pretty safe thing to say about almost any shrimp you eat, as 75% of the world’s shrimp farming happens between those two countries.
That’s all well and good, but it still leaves the window open on why Trader Joe’s calls these gyoza Thai Shrimp Gyoza in the first place. As we talked about before, the cuisine of gyoza is bound up in the histories of China and Japan – Thailand is sort of a non-player in the whole scene. If you’re getting your shrimp from Thailand, I suppose you’re welcome to throw the word in the title, but if you’re just going to make the whole thing taste just like your chicken gyoza I don’t see how that’s really worth the bother.
I suppose this, as so many other answers, lays with Trader Joe’s inscrutable marketing department. Presumably there’s a chart someone has on their desk that shows seafood sales increase by 7% when the word “Thai” is in the title. At any rate, all the mind games and marketing ultimately give way to how it actually tastes, and in this case the taste is there.
If you’re vegetarian but not pescatarian, or if you’re looking for another totally easy, totally tasty potsticker to stick in your pot there’s no reason not to give these a shot.
Would I Recommend It: Sure, these are pretty good gyoza – particularly if you’re staying away from meat.
Would I Buy It Again: These gyoza don’t taste all that different from the slightly cheaper chicken and pork gyoza, so probably not.
Final Synopsis: A shrimp filled gyoza that tastes just as good as, and just like, Trader Joe’s other gyoza.
We continue our look at Trader Joe’s frozen Chinese-insipired food with Trader Joe’s Chicken Gyoza Pot Stickers. Unlike the Chicken Chow Mein from the other day, I like these gyoza just fine. In fact, I have a nearly bottomless stomach for a good gyoza, and Trader Joe’s certainly manages to deliver. I crammed hundreds of these savory dumplings into my face in Japan, and I’ll cram hundreds more if given the chance. Where the chow mein clearly lacked any sort of passion in it’s execution, these gyoza were made by a true believer. Despite coming to you frozen, these little dumplings are nearly as good as the real thing and, even better, seem to cook up perfectly every time.
There’s something wonderful that happens to mince meat and vegetables when they’re put inside the thin, crimped skin of a gyoza dumpling. Trader Joe’s combination of rich and flavorful chicken with minced vegetables combines brilliantly with the smooth, almost creamy texture of the tender skin. Whether pan fried or steamed, the gyoza seal in the flavors, keeping the insides moist and tender.
The name gyoza is directly taken from the Japanese, but that name is as meaningless to them as it is to us. The Japanese took both the name and idea from Northern China where gyoza go by the name giaozi or jioazi. Their true origin is obscured by the hazy reaches of history, but seems to owe their creation to Zhang Zhongjing – a legendary figure in Chinese history and the most prominent physician of the year 200 AD – as some sort of medical treatment.
The name Mr. Zhang bestowed upon his creation, jiaozi, translates literally “tender ears”. This is not, as you might expect, because of the lumpy, oblong shape of gyoza makes them look a somewhat ear-like. Instead, historic record suggests they were used to treat frostbitten ears. Whether this means that they were supposed to be fed to a person with frostbitten ears as a sort of medicine, or strapped directly to the head in order to warm the damaged extremities is unknown, as Zhang’s original texts were lost during the ravages of the Three Kingdoms period.
Medical use aside, the other big gyoza question is – what’s the difference between these things and Trader Joe’s equally delicious wantons?
While outwardly similar, the wanton is usually rounder than the gyoza, with a somewhat thinner skin and more heavily seasoned filling. When steamed, the differences between gyoza and wantons are more academic than anything – it’s when you pan-fry your gyoza that the differences really show up. A good pan-fried gyoza turns toasty brown on one-side while steaming up on the other. The result is a spectrum of textures, from crispy to soft, to add another dimension to the meaty filling.
Of course, no good potsticker would be complete without a killer dipping sauce. A simple mixture of soy sauce and vinegar (I like a 1:2 ration) elevates this humble dumpling to surprisingly levels of flavor and melt in your mouth pleasure. Ideally, you should use a mild rice vinegar, but any vinegar will work.
It’s a winning combination in my book, and a flawless execution of a delicious and versatile food that can be eaten as a side dish or main course. Trader Joe’s should be proud – they’ve done the gyoza proud.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – they’re perfect for entrees or sides.
Would I Buy It Again: I’m hooked.
Final Synopsis: Authentic tasting gyoza that cook up fantastically.