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Before I fell for a Japanese woman and got married, there was my first secret passion: “Niku-man.” “Niku,” as in meat. “Man” as in “filled with.” Basically, a soft dumpling stuffed with goodness that’s probably really bad for you! Niku-man is originally from China but has caught on so well in Japan that it might as well be a local thing. Here’s an introduction.

My first love in Japan…yep, meat dumplings!

This tasty treat isn’t limited to restaurants. Most people get it from street vendors (called “yattai”) or even convenience stores. It usually comes to you wrapped up and piping hot, just for you.

Can’t wait to tear the wrapping and get a-chompin’!

When I first came to Japan, the meat-to-dumpling ratio was pretty pathetic, but now people are expecting the best. As you can see, most are satisfied–just looking at this picture makes me feel hungry!

Well worth the wait, I’d say

But the fun doesn’t stop at run of the mill meat dumplings. If the outside of the dumpling is yellow, chances are you’re picking up “pizza-man” (no, not that guy–it means “filled with pizza”) or even “curry-man,” which is, you guessed it, brimming with hot curry. Yum.

It’s not just the flavors that are diverse. The Japanese go out of their way to give their “niku-man” character…often literally. Just check out the pick below and tell me you can’t guess what’s inside that little guy.

Let’s see…pizza-man? No. Curry-man? No again. Just give me a minute, I’ll pig it up somehow.

This is one of the “slime” characters from Dragon Quest, which is amazingly popular with women and girls. Popular snack plus popular character equals smart marketing, folks. I remember when they put this one out, and people just ate it up! HA!

Don’t worry…it doesn’t taste gross, really

Just in case you thought we were getting too girl-centric or something, boys, I bring you “Ultra-man.” No, seriously, like the uberfamous Japanese superhero Ultaman, only…oh, never mind. It looks more like one of those Roswell aliens to me, but OK.

If I eat this, will I be gifted with funky super powers too?

Just as the niku-man gods skimp on neither flavor or shape, they also deliver in terms of size! This is a so-called, “jumbo-man” (not to be confused with the above “ultra-man” in any way) that is brimming with all kinds of goodies and has to be bigger than my head. Yes, FYI I have a small head.

“Excuse me…but I ordered the LARGE niku-man…”

Hope you can try niku-man someday!

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