“Gyoza” is a kind of Chinese dumpling. It is a very common food in Japan, and it’s tasty, too. Gyoza is one of the things sold on the streets by vendors from small trucks in the cold winter months much as baked sweet potatoes (“yaki imou”) are sold in the Fall, and bamboo clothes drying poles (“takeya saodake”) are sold from vendors’ small trucks patrolling residential neighborhoods in the hot summer time. It’s similar to roast chestnuts sold on downtown Toronto streets in the winter, or the wandering knife sharpening man that I remember from my childhood in my hometown, Guelph, in the summer. Such things are part of the sights and sounds of urban culture.
In mid-December I was walking my son home from his after school activity center (“gakudo club”) when we passed a gyoza vendor parked on the street, blaring his tape-recorded sing-song message to bring local housewives outside to buy gyoza for the evening meal. I looked inside the truck’s cab as we walked past and saw the man in there with his feet up on the dashboard, reading a comic book. (Japanese love comics.)
(Meat gyoza, vegetable gyoza, kimchi [the spicy Korean dish] gyoza, curry gyoza, and gobo gyoza.)
I heard every word in the announcement clearly, and I understood it all, except for the last - “gobo gyoza.” I didn’t know what “gobo” meant. It sounded disconcertingly like “gebo,” which means “vomit.” I thought that was an unlikely meaning - but you never know for sure, with Asians. In the evening I told the story to my wife and asked what “gobo” is?
“It’s a kind of vegetable.”
Oh. No help there. So I looked it up in my Romanized Japanese-English dictionary and discovered that it means “a burdock.” Hmmm. I didn’t know what that meant, either. So then I looked it up in my Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language (1968) and learned that it was, indeed, a plant - “any of a number of related plants of the composite family, with burs, large leaves, and a strong smell.” (Against my wife’s protests, I picked that dictionary out of the local garbage years ago - it was wet with rain at the time and needed some drying out - and have relished the vindicating moral supremacy every time I have occasion to use it.)
Well, I still don’t know what a “gobo”is. The only thing for it is to go shopping with my wife and look for it in the green grocery section of the supermarket for myself.