Photography by Karlo Cadang
When people say Korean food, the first thing that comes to mind is samgyupsal. If that is the case for you, you just might be missing out on the best flavors Korea’s got to offer. There’s a new diner on the hip Poblacion strip that wants to change your mind and introduce you to a different perspective of the cuisine altogether. Enter Gaja Korean Kitchen.
Helmed by Executive Chef Mark Tee, theirs is a reimagining of traditional flavors with a more modern take. Here are just some of the food fares we loved that you dare not miss out.
If the Japanese have their gyoza, the Koreans have their own dumplings called the mandu. There are many variations of the potsticker and Gaja makes theirs with beef bulgogi, fresh kimchi, and cheese that you can dip in their spicy Hwarang sauce. You can also choose whether you want them pan-seared or fried.
Meanwhile, Galbi-jjim is Korean braised short ribs and here, they use Kitayama Wagyu sous vide for 48 hours, resulting to a savory, tender, and flavorful meat that doesn’t flake. Paired with finely mashed potatoes and carrots, you’ll definitely get why this dish is one of their bestsellers.
The spicier the food, the better it is for stress relief, as the Koreans believe. Gaja’s delectable version is made from whole squid stuffed with stir-fried rice and pork belly and crispy crackling and spicy Korean sauce. If you’re not used to eating spicy, fret not because this diner will give you the freedom to choose the spice level from mild to strong. It’s no coincidence that Osam sounds a lot like awesome, don’t you think?
Buldak means ‘fire chicken’ and staying true to its name, they’re heavily spiced. Gaja’s take on this popular Korean dish is a little bit different. Here, they’ve skewered 4 pieces of chicken thighs marinated in gochujang and then topped with cheese. A taste of this and you’ll definitely get why this dish is addicting as it sounds.
For more of the familiar fares your Korean-loving tastebuds are more accustomed to, this new Poblacion diner has them on the menu too. No, we’re not talking samgyupsal (though, fun fact, that was one of the first concepts the owners had in mind on the drawing board), we’re talking their version of the bibimbap and the ramyeon. Their Ribimbap, as they’d like to call it, is an amped up sister of the traditional playing on juicy USDA rib eye and mixed veggies over hot rice, and served with their special housemade Gochujang butter. Their version of the Ramyeon, meanwhile, is a Seoulful stew incorporating comfort food faves – a welcome addition to the roster.
After dining, Gaja Korean Kitchen’s still got a lot to offer. Its wall has a secret and if you find the odd bottle on the shelf, it will transport you to their hidden bar called The Odd Seoul.
This speakeasy bar is the polar opposite of the restaurant. If Gaja is more on the fast casual side of things, The Odd Seoul is vibrant with neon lights for the young ones thirsty for adventure. Take a shot of their soju-based drinks and marvel at the Korean drinking culture.
Go on and let the tide of the Korean wave take over your tastebuds all over again with Gaja. Who knows? This just might be your new hangout favorite.
Gaja Korean Kitchen and The Odd Seoul is located at 8445 Kalayaan Avenue, Brgy. Poblacion, Makati city.