Chinese food is popular with locals and expats alike in Japan, and where better to get some delicious Chinese grub than at a branch of the popular Dumpling King chain? You can find a Dumpling King (餃子の王将) in almost every prefecture in Japan and their popularity is evident through the length of queues to get in the door, particularly around lunchtime. What you may not know is that aside from moreish dumplings and authentic fried rice, this restaurant chain is hiding a shady secret that has roots in the yakuza – the Japanese mafia.
We first stumbled on the Dumpling King in Kyoto. Being an expensive city, we were tired of splashing out on fancy dinners and wanted something cheap and cheerful. There are branches of this restaurant throughout Japan with a store locator on its website to make it easy to find one near you. We have since visited our local branch several times, always looking forward to our next visit.
Menus vary slightly depending on which region you’re in, but the basic principal is the same – cheap, filling Chinese food with flavors preferable to the Japanese palate. In other words, the food you’ll find at Dumpling King is much closer to a ‘Chinese takeaway’ that you can get in the UK than it is to the authentic flavors of real Chinese food. If you’re like me, this will be your preference anyway – having lived in China (and experienced years of super oily, super spicy, and often ‘unclean’ food products), then you’ll welcome the calorific goodness of an old fashioned takeaway.
The signature dish at Dumpling King is… yeah, you’ve guessed it – dumplings. A plate of six gyoza will set you back only 220 yen – some branches have posters on the wall boasting how many servings of dumplings they have managed to serve within a given time frame. Walk into the restaurant at any time of day and you’ll be hard pushed to find a customer who isn’t eating gyoza. They’re good – ordering a plate of these is pretty much a given.
Like Japanese food, Chinese cuisine is designed very much for sharing, and as such, they offer plates of food at a reasonable price and fairly large servings so that you can order a couple of plates to share with your company. Main dishes cost about 400 yen to 600 yen each, and for a party of two, I recommend two main dishes to share, as well as some gyoza and maybe rice or noodles, depending on how hungry you are.
Shrimp with chili sauce is one of my favorites – not strictly a traditional Chinese dish but tasty all the same (not at all spicy, either). Other top dishes include sweet and sour pork, shrimp tempura, spring rolls, karaage (fried chicken), beef and pepper, mixed vegetables, and dim sum. Small bowls of plain rice are available for 140 yen, with dishes of rice, fried rice, noodles, and noodle soups available for 400 yen to 700 yen. I particularly recommend the fried rice topped with egg and crab, in a thick, glutinous sauce.
Soup, salad, dessert… and of course, my favorite part of the menu, the JSM (Just Size Menu). Given that Chinese food is great for sharing, what do you do if you visit by yourself and want to try a whole bunch of things but know you won’t finish it all? Introducing the JSM – all your favorite dishes from the main menu, but scaled down to a one-person size. By ordering from the JSM, you can try even more of their delicious dishes and not waste leftover food while taking it easy on your wallet. Just Size dishes cost between 100 yen to 350 yen – cheap enough to order a couple of different things. You can even order these when you visit in a group for a really lavish spread of all the different dishes on offer.
Top reason to visit at lunch time is that the lunch sets are awesome and have an amazing value. Once you’ve seen the size of the lunch set, you’ll realize why people stand outside queuing for most of their lunch break. The sets are literally so generous that most people struggle to finish them. Deals vary between different branches and at different times, so check the store near you to find out what is available.
Top reason to visit at dinner time – alcohol! It’s so cheap and there are always special offers going on. The unforgettable 100 yen glass of wine is a super cheap accompaniment for your evening meal, but be warned – you do get what you pay for in terms of quality!
So after waxing lyrical about the delicious food on offer at Dumpling King, let’s now explore the shady underworld of the yakuza (the Japanese mafia) and how it relates to the popular Chinese restaurant. In 2013, the president of the Dumpling King company was found dead outside the company headquarters – he had been shot at least three times. Gun crime is exceedingly rare in Japan and it resulted in a high-profile case (and in publicity for the restaurant chain – in the weeks following his murder, sales went up by 20% at Dumpling King, prompting them to offer food coupons and discount cards to customers as thanks for their support).
Investigations of the connection between the Dumpling King chain and a yakuza syndicate are still continuing, with reports emerging this 2016 of improper transactions totaling 26 billion yen, dating back to the early ’90s. Evidence of these transactions first arose only one month before the murder of the 72-year-old company president. The suspect is still unknown.
Shady or not, the Dumpling King restaurants sure do produce some delicious food. Opening hours for individual stores can be found on the website and takeaway options are available at most restaurants. If you’re hankering after something deliciously unhealthy and easy on the wallet, Dumpling King is a top choice!
There are many branches, but we will introduce one of them here.