You won’t find shumai like this anywhere else.

When you think of Shumai steamed dumplings, you’re likely to think of small, bite-sized parcels containing meat like minced pork. However, at one temple in Japan, they do things a little differently, selling a meatless version known as Ashikaga Shumai.

These dumplings are so popular they’ve become a regional specialty, named after the city of Ashikaga in Tochigi Prefecture, where the temple is located.

▼ The dumplings are sold on the grounds of Banna-ji, a temple that’s been registered as a national treasure.

The temple itself is a magnificent place to visit, with a moat surrounding the complex. This moat harks back to the temple’s history as home of the Ashikaga clan, who founded the Muromachi Shogunate, and the area is now a premier tourist spot representing Ashikaga City.

After visiting the shrine, we stopped by the famous store selling the famous shumai — Dainichi Chaya. The words “Ashikaga Shumai” are written in large letters on the signboard and flag in front of the store, so it’s hard to miss.

The menu inside is extensive, with loads of hot snacks such as chicken nuggets and fried noodles on offer.

The shumai can be ordered steamed or fried, with both options priced at 170 yen (US$1.13) for a set of two. We decided to order both so we could compare them.

▼ Steamed shumai on the left, fried shumai on the right.

We were excited to try this specialty of Ashikaga, and both versions looked plump and delicious, especially with all the thick, glistening sauce slathered over them.

▼ The dumplings are said to contain a filling of onions and potato starch.

▼ Shumai are usually served with soy sauce, but this thick sauce looked like an even tastier option.

The classic steamed version was almost transparent, giving it an ethereal feel that was truly beautiful. It shone like a pearl in the light and the steamed meat was fresh, plump, and appetising.

The first bite surprised us with its texture — smooth, bouncy, chewy and light, it was absolutely beautiful. Although there was no meat in the shumai, it was so juicy that it felt as if it really did contain meaty juices.

▼ The sweetness of the kneaded onions and slightly spicy sauce went perfectly together!

▼ The fried version is characterised by a crispy exterior, and it was fried to a delicious golden brown colour.

The crunchy texture was fantastic, especially when contrasted with the chewy centre. It was so tasty we could’ve eaten a whole bucketful of them, and we didn’t miss the meat filling at all.

While both versions were incredibly delicious, we felt like we would recommend the steamed version as it was noticeably juicier. Either way, it was a nice way to top off our visit to Ashikaga’s most famous temple, in the prefecture of Tochigi, which is usually synonymous with another type of dumpling.

Store Information

Dainichi Chaya / 大日茶屋
Address: Tochigi-ken, Ashikaga-shi, Ietomi-cho, 2220, Ban’a-ji Temple Precincts
栃木県足利市家富町2220 鑁阿寺境内
Open: 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Closed: Mondays

Related: Ashikaga City Tourism Association
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