As we entered Alert Level 4 in Auckland, one thing that I sure missed was all the good food that restaurants in Auckland served! Of course, nothing beats a home-cooked meal but sometimes you just want to treat yourself. And the moment we lowered the alert level, that’s exactly what I decided to do!
One place that I really wanted to try out before the lockdown hit was GAJA (가자), meaning “let’s go,” in Korean. The place opened in early August, and it was unfortunate that the restaurant had to close after only a few weeks of operating. I thought what would be a better local business to support than GAJA for my first takeaway in Level 3 (oh yes, this won’t be my last!). GAJA is located in Ponsonby and prides itself on being a Korean fusion restaurant or shall I say a ‘suljib,’ as they call it. This Korean term literally translates to an ‘alcohol house’ and the whole culture behind it is to be able to share dishes with your favourite company, while washing it down with a little bit of alcohol. So, being at home I thought I would share the ordered dishes with my fam while we chill out and indulge in some delicious Korean-fusion food!
For starters, I went for their ‘Menbosha,’ a deep-fried milk loaf bun served with a prawn and corn filling - because I purely love carbs and anything deep-fried. So no shock here but this was my favourite dish out of everything that I ordered. Menboshas are actually a Chinese dish, but are trending like crazy in Korea! It can be tricky to ensure that something deep-fried can still have that crunchy and crispy texture as a takeaway dish, but GAJA has got this secret down! Not only was it fried to perfection but the corn filling accentuated the sweetness of the prawns and added a pleasant balance to what could have been just a savoury dish. Dip this with their accompanied chilli lime gochujang sauce and you got a starter that is full of flavour from sweet to spicy to sour, all in just one entree. It sure awakened my taste buds and prepared them for the next dishes. For some health, I also got their charred broccolini. Though its delicious doenjang (fermented soybean paste) glaze and the sesame oil drizzle got me in love, this is a vegetable dish. And that to me, is why it doesn’t beat their other dishes 😂 So let’s quickly move on to GAJA’s mandus!
Next up was one of their specialties, Mandu 🥟 These are Korean dumplings and I decided to go for a classic, a kimchi & tofu option. This to my surprise, also had corn and burdock, a root vegetable that brought a crunchiness that this dumpling definitely needed. It’s not common to find tofu in dumplings from other cuisines, however, tofu in Korean dumplings won’t be a surprise to many. I love the combination that tofu brings to the mandus, as it gives them the fluffiest texture that just cannot be achieved with other protein sources. Though I did wish there was more kimchi, I can say that GAJA does so well in not only balancing out flavour but also texture!
Korean fried chicken is a must try whenever I see it on a menu, and GAJA was no exception. I decided to opt for their OG, original-style chicken as I felt like there was already so much flavour going on with the other dishes! I’m definitely glad I did because even though the fried chicken’s flavour profile was kept simple, it was still very delicious. The chicken was fried perfectly while still maintaining the juiciness, even after the journey home. Though the batter of the chicken wasn’t exactly what you would get out of other Korean fried chicken restaurants, it was still crunchy without being overly greasy. What really took it to the next level was dipping the chicken in the ‘Menbosha’ sauce - the combination was seriously so good that it made me want to try out their other fried chicken flavours. The flavour of the sauces from the chicken did not disappoint and it was great to see that they have combined Korea's fundamental spices like fermented gochujang and soybean with the Western dishes.
With all this food, I was happy and very much satisfied. GAJA had put together a delicious dinner for my family and I to share, while we enjoyed each other’s company at the comfort of our own home. GAJA’s takeaway food was so flavoursome and tasty. I’m sure it will be that much more amazing when the food has just come out of their kitchen, served fresh and piping hot. I will definitely be visiting GAJA again, where I can hopefully be there in person while catching up with friends! No doubt we’ll get to have the full ‘suljib’ experience once alert levels decrease 🤞 Here's my attempted photo of our family Gaja feast ⬇️