Gyozas are no longer a boring side dish. The Japanese dumplings are now the menu highlight of restaurants that specialise in the popular pot stickers.
These are Gyoza King at Orchid Hotel, Gyoza Ya at Robinsons Orchard and the Osaka Ohsho chain, which has four outlets here.
The dumplings, generally sold in a set of five or six, are filled with minced pork and vegetables.
Unlike other dumplings that are completely boiled, steamed or fried, gyozas have a crispy pan-fried base and its upper half is steamed. It is normally served with dipping sauce of either vinegar or soya sauce, with julienned ginger.
The Akashi Group's chef-owner Mervin Goh, 41, who owns Gyoza Ya which opened in February, says: "Gyozas have always been seen as the bridesmaid to ramen.
"But people are growing to like gyozas more and the attention is moving to them. So far, response has been very good. In our first month of opening, we sold almost 50,000 pieces of gyozas."
New varieties of handmade gyozas are in the works, and Mr Goh is experimenting with seafood ingredients, miso and char siew.
Gyoza King, which opened in November last year, sells about 800 to 900 gyozas a day at its 18-seat outlet in Tanjong Pagar. To differentiate itself from other gyoza outlets, owner Keisuke Takeda, 44, leverages on its ramen expertise and uses flavourful ramen broth (pork, chicken or crab) in cooking the dumplings.
Gyoza restaurant chain Osaka Ohsho, which opened here in November 2012, has grown from one outlet to four in Singapore. Each sells about 3,000 gyozas a day.
Gyozas remain the signature item at Osaka Ohsho and also feature in its set meals.
Next month, it will open a new outlet in Bugis Junction, which will feature a wider range of gyoza, says its business planning manager, Ms Keiko Nakamura.
The chain, which was established in Japan in 1969, is run by Japan Food Holdings here.
The home-grown company owns other restaurant brands here, such as ramen restaurants Menya Musashi and Ajisen.
While these gyoza specialists are dishing out the dumplings, ramen restaurants are also jazzing up their dumpling offerings with toppings and special sauces.
Ippudo Singapore's signature Hakata- style gyozas (bite-sized dumplings) come in variations that include chilli oil and a citrusy ponzu sauce with grated radish; while Bishamon Zero, one of the brands in Ramen Champion's Great World City outlet, features gyozas topped with a mentaiko sauce as well as gyozas done in the same style as okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake, with a special sauce, mayonnaise and bonito flakes.
Uma Uma Ramen at Forum The Shopping Mall, which opened in July 2012, features "one-bite" gyozas to complement its ramen.
Mr Russell Yu, 27, director of Iki Concepts which owns Uma Uma Ramen, says: "Most times, food items are developed and refined based on whole instead of bite-sized portions. We feel that the smaller one-bite gyozas enable us to better show this balance while being unique. Our gyoza skin is specially cut for us and made to our specifications by our noodlemaker."
He adds: "Our gyozas tend to be filled more with vegetables than meat, with the intention of creating much lighter, sweeter gyozas." On pairing gyoza with ramen, Mr Yu notes: "It is very common in Japan for diners to order ramen with gyoza and a bowl of rice for their meal.
"I think the pairing goes well because of the contrasting textures between the soupiness of the ramen and the crunchiness of the gyoza."