Turning A Family Recipe Into An Island Staple
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Every family member who loves to cook has that one specialty known and loved by everyone. For family-owned Aja Sushi & Bento, it is the famous garlic chicken. The eatery is known for its Asian fare that has a mix of local-style influences, and the garlic chicken is the perfect example of this. It is the best-seller, in fact, and a crispy must-try that is packed with flavor.
“My maternal grandma was invited to a very fancy dinner back in the day. It was a catering dinner and the chef was actually a Chinese chef of a hotel,” explains manager Lauren Yoo, whose parents, Jimmy and Ce-line Yoo, own Aja. “He made something similar to a fried chicken that was very good, so she made her own recipe, and it was this garlic chicken that is a combination of Korean-style fried chicken with a bit of a Chinese influence.”
From there, it became such a staple in the family that Yoo’s grandma passed the recipe down to her seven daughters. Each one makes it with her own technique.
“My mom’s one is closest to my grandma’s, but we had such a big laugh because we realized recently that everyone makes it with their own style,” recalls Yoo. She added that all of the sisters like to compare notes on their recipes and that each branch of the extended family feels their rendition is the best.
The garlic chicken was even the first thing Yoo’s grandma made when her father, Jimmy, came over to meet the family for the first time. Of course, he loved it. And now, it’s a staple at Aja.
“We started this business about 20 years ago in Downtown, and we were thinking about what else we should make,” adds Yo. “We were like, ‘Oh, what about the chicken?’ So that’s how we started making it at Aja.”
The garlic chicken is available as a plate for just $7.99, or pair it with another entree for $12.99, or as part of three entrees for $15.99. You can then choose from a selection of over 13 savory veggies, known as banchan, to go on the side.
Aja also offers a wide range of bento, sushi, plate lunch and more. The eatery’s Korean Sushi ($4.79) is a delectable but lighter choice. Ten pieces come rolled with bulgogi, daikon, carrots, choy sum and egg. It is served with Aja’s special sauce, which has a spicy, shoyu kind of flavor.
During the summer, bentos are easy to grab as you hop from one beach to the next, and the Aja Pack ($12.49) is perfect for just that. It comes packed with mandoo, garlic chicken and your choice of entree: saba, salmon, shrimp tempura or meat jun.
“A lot of our customers grab bentos before they head out to the beach, and we always have customers come down for Fourth of July,” Yoo says.
Aja is located in Ala Moana Center’s Makai Market Food Court and is open daily, so don’t wait to check it out.
Aja Sushi & Bento
Ala Moana Center
1450 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu
Monday-Saturday, 8 A.M.-9 P.M.; Sunday, 9 A.M.-7 P.M.