September 26, 2018

Gaja Korean Kitchen: Traditional Flavors with a Modern Twist

I've never been to any of the Korea's; but I do know two things: SoKor is on my travel bucket list (yeah, maybe NoKor too) and I love Korean cuisine! I'm finding myself nowadays either in a Korean or a Japanese resto. I don't know what that means or if they are just calls for me to finally make plans to go to these countries. We'll see...

In recent years, South Korean culture has heavily influenced lives of the daily Filipino. More and more South Koreans have settled in parts of the Philippines, and introduced us to K-POP, digital perm, and of course, Korean BBQ. Save for a few Korean restaurants in the country, most of them are Korean BBQ restaurants offering servings of pork belly to last you a lifetime. As a country that’s been exposed to a culture and heritage as rich as South Korea’s, though, we’re due for a reinvention of our perspective of their cuisine.

This is where Gaja Korean Kitchen enters. Gaja literally means ‘let’s go’. Let’s go - a quick invitation that leads anywhere and everywhere. It’s something you can say to friends or family, where you’ll always end up remembering not the smallest of details, but rather the company you’ve kept. Just like how a South Korean meal won’t be complete without different elements, the South Korean culture is profoundly influenced by the concepts of family and friendship. Bringing people together is just one of the ways that their practices resound even in the modern-day setting.

South Korean cuisine is highly traditional and unpretentious, but it has continuously evolved through the years due to cultural and social trends. Despite this, even the most basic meal has always consisted of a lot of elements for it to be considered complete. The concept of bringing contrasting flavors together are what truly makes South Korean cuisine memorable, and this is one of the inspirations for Gaja Korean Kitchen

I was invited with a couple other foodies to try what they have to offer. The location is along Kalayaan Avenue in the hip and "it" district of Poblacion, Makati City. You'll locate it on the second floor of  Zentro Bldg., with a huge sign outside. To find the entrance you have to go to the right side of the building, take the stairs or the elevator to the second floor and you'll find this gem.

Gaja Korean Kitchen is probably the nicest Korean restaurant interior-wise I've been to; it is colorful yet sleek. I personally love the paintings on the walls of this resto. This cozy Poblacion spot is not short on the frills and definitely long on flavor. I love what they did with the soju bottles neatly displayed in those glass cases along the walls. 

Now let's get on with the food:

Kimbap Sampler - or Gimbap; Korean dish made from cooked rice and other ingredients that are rolled in gim-dried sheets of laver seaweed-and served in bite-sized slices. This contains all the three available Kimbaps at Gaja. My favorite is of course the one with cheese (sorry I’m biased with anything with cheese, because you know, everything is better with cheese): Kimbap Aburi.

Spicy Salmon and Tuna Kimbap - deep fried spicy salmon and tuna kimbap packed with unique flavors from traditional Koran ingredients.

Samgyeopsal Kimbap - Samjjang rice, pickled radish, lettuce, garlic confit, and kimchi wrapped in thin slices of samgyeopsal.

Kimbap Aburi - beef bulgogi kimbap wrapped with roasted seaweed, topped with cheesy lava aburi sauce. 

Deep Sea Pajeon - crisp Korean pancake with mixed seafood to be dipped in spicy Hwarang sauce. I’ve always seen this Korean pancakes in buffet restos but not usually in Korean BBQ places. So this was the first time I’ve tried this pancake in a legit Korean diner. This pancake was savory and was perfect with the tangy-spicy dip that it came with.

K-Taco - 6 pcs. of house-made kimchi tortilla with Korean pulled pork and pickled vegetables. I love k-Tacos more than K-Pop haha! Seriously though, hese K-tacos are seriously good. Every piece is a bite full of flavors.

Osam - whole squid stuffed with stir-fried rice, slow braised pressed pork belly with crispy crackling and spicy Korean sauce. This is Gaja’s take on the traditional Osam. Instead of pieces of squid and pork, they serve it in whole squid filled with kimchi rice. The pork belly had crispy skin and tender meat similar to our local lechon kawali but with Korean flavors. Needless to say this dish was truly awesome!

Ribimbap - rib eye cubes, mushrooms, mixed vegetables, egg, and gochujang butter. What we Filipinos are familiar with is the bibimbap, but the Gaja staff told us that the Ribimbap is really eaten with butter mixed with gochujang which makes it truly spicy. This was one of my favorites at Gaja. It was so flavorful and creamy at the same time because of the butter. It wasn’t as spicy as I thought it would be; the spiciness was something that I can tolerate so it was all good for me. The amount of toppings in this dish was also quite generous especially the rib eye pieces. 

Honey Butter Chicken - twice fried beer battered chicken thigh fillets, honey butter sauce, almond, pickled radish, rice puff. The taste was light and sweet and the coating was crispy. 

Yangnyeom Fried Chicken - twice fried beer battered chicken thigh fillets, Yangnyeom sauce, pickled radish, rice puff. I actually like this better than the honey butter version. They told us this was the spicy version and I like that the spiciness was perfect for my liking.

Galbi-jjim - 48-hour sous vide Kitayama Wagyu short ribs served with mushroom duxelle, potato and carrot puree. Galbi jjim is usually a braised short ribs steamed dish. To put a modern twist to it, Gaja used the method of sous-vide which is a way of cooking where food is placed in a plastic pouch to retain juices and aroma. I kid you not, this was the best dish I've tried at Gaja! The pork fat almost melts in your mouth. The sauce and the purees were so rich. The meat was so tender and succulent. The flavor was unreal! It is out-of-this-world good! Heck, so good!

Bibimyeon - traditional cold-spicy buckwheat noodles. This sweet and spicy noodle is something new to me. Being a food blogger, I am used to eating cold food because it takes us quite some time to take photos, a new, although this was chewy, creamy and flavorful, I am not a fan of cold-types of noodles.

Seafood Sundubu Jjiggae - a popular choice among Koreans. Spicy soft tofu soup mixed with seafood. I actually like this soup especially that it has tofu. It was actually not that spicy and just gave my tummy the right amount of warmth and spiciness.

Korean Chili Lava Cake -  chocolate lava cake infused with Korean chili powder, served with Vanilla ice cream. I’m not really into fusion dishes especially spices being mixed with my favorite desserts. But I am up for the challenge. To my surprise, I actually liked this as the chili flavor was subtle. It’s only evident during the aftertaste. All in all this was a comforting dessert. 

Being someone who’s so used to just eating Korean BBQ, I can say that I totally enjoyed our dinner at Gaja. The flavors were something new to me but seems familiar. The service was also impeccable. The staff were very accommodating and they know very well all the dishes that they served us. They just didn’t put the dishes on our table but they always take effort in explaining what the dish is or what the story behind it is. So kudos to that.

It takes a special kind of conviction to present a cuisine with such remarkable history attached to it. Gaja offers traditional South Korean cuisine with modern twists. It is set to anchor on the very core of what South Korean cuisine is all about and mold it with the Seoul lifestyle - a perfect encapsulation of the Gaja experience.

And oh before I forget, I want to let you in on a little secret. Hidden behind one of the walls of Gaja is a hip and clandestine Soju Bar called The Odd Seoul. Want to know more details on how to find it? Check out this blog post: Secret Bar: The Odd Seoul.

2F, 8445 Kalayaan Avenue, 
Poblacion, Makati City 1407
Contact Nos: +63 9174930799

For more information, complete menu and restaurant reviews, check out their Zomato profile: 
Gaja Korean Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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