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Join In On The ‘Local Potluck’

Inside Feature

December 17, 2017

Story By: Caroline Wright |

AjaPacs Bentos ($12.49 each)

The word “Aja” is lovely, no matter how you say it.

“A-ha? Asia? Ay-juh? We’ve heard many different pronunciations!” chuckles Lauren Yoo, general manager of Aja Sushi & Bento.

The correct pronunciation is “Ahh-zhuh,” and it’s a derivative of Azabu-juban, the central Tokyo, Japan neighborhood Yoo once called home.

Garlic Chicken is a best-seller

But this isn’t a Japanese eatery, nor is it Korean, although fifteen delectable varieties of banchan (side dishes) are available in the plate lunch section of the takeout spot. Where else but at Aja can you get a combination plate with a multi-cultural trio of pork adobo, shoyu chicken and pot roast as your three protein selections?

“I think people have this misconception about Aja as a Korean takeout restaurant, but basically it’s local favorites,” says Yoo. “We all grew up eating like this!”

Aja Sushi & Bento is located in Ala Moana’s food court

When visitors hear the phrase “local favorites,” they might think of Hawaiian food like poi and raw fish. But Aja’s offerings are reflective of the food one might find at any serious island potluck: a mouthwatering spread of culinary traditions that have fused and evolved over the years.

“I think potluck is one of the strongest cultural traditions in Hawaii, and it originated in plantation days,” Yoo says. “There were Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Filipino (plantation workers) … I’m sure they had parties back then, and they all made a point of bringing in their own ethnic foods.”

Korean Sushi ($4.79)

Aja’s own menu includes cherished recipes brought to the table, so to speak, by employees and friends from different cultures: pork adobo, nishime with chicken, even a succulent beef roast. And one of the most popular menu items is a beloved recipe from Yoo’s own family: Garlic Chicken, which originated with her grandmother. “It’s something a typical Korean mom would make for a special occasion, very homestyle food,” she says.

The chicken is a popular entree selection for Aja’s made-to-order plate lunches (minis are $7.99; two entree choices $12.99; three choices $14.99). It’s also included in every AjaPac Bento ($12.49) from the restaurant’s grab-and-go section. “All AjaPacs come with mandoo and Garlic Chicken, and we have four varieties: salmon, saba, meat jun, and shrimp tempura,” explains Yoo.

For those craving just a little nibble, Korean Sushi ($4.79) is perfect. The roll is stuffed with choy sum, daikon, egg, carrots, and bulgogi (marinated beef), and it comes with Aja sauce for dipping. (The spicy shoyu-based sauce is so popular that it’s also on the menu at Poke & Box, Aja’s sister restaurant just across the way in Ala Moana Center’s Makai Market Food Court.)

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