At “Pan Honesta,” located in the far end of Seoul’s quiet residential neighborhood, early mornings mean muffled conversations, an under-stated dark-roast, and a book.
Over the last few years, vegan options have become more sought out, either due to the influx of foreigners now residing in Seoul or as an attractive addition to the city’s budding diversity within the food community. While there is still a significant amount of disinterest and misunderstanding towards veganism in Korea, the popularity of healthy or clean eating has no doubt affected the rise of vegan bakeries and restaurants. For anyone who maintains such preconceptions about vegan desserts, I can assure you that a good dessert is just that: a good dessert.
“Pan Honesta” or “Cafe Honesta” began not as a vegan bakery, but as a bakery that insists on using healthy ingredients. When purchasing take-out items, customers receive a short brochure that goes into detail about ingredients, cafe philosophy, and recommendations for maintaining fresh products at home. The whole thing is in Korean, but I’m going to give a quick translation of it below:
Brand Story: Allergic to almost all the ingredients of regular bread, Pang Soon-i*, interested in diet and health, and who likes bread more than rice, made “Pan Honesta,” meaning “honest bread,” made with only the healthy ingredients that I can enjoy. The food I eat makes me. Through constant study, I am always making new products and testing new healthy ingredients to serve the best.
*빵순이/Pang Soon-i – This is a cute kind of word that means someone who really loves bread/someone who is addicted to bread!
Ingredients: No Flour: Rather than use flour or artificially added gluten, only domestic rice flour is used.
No Sugar: Only 0 calorie, non-GMO Eristol and coconut sugar with low GI-levels are used
No Dairy Products: All dairy products such as milk, whipped cream, and butter, are replaced with ingredients such as coconut milk and oil. If you are lactose-intolerant, you can eat with confidence!
No Eggs: No eggs are used in the making of any bread
No Preservatives, Pigments, or Trans fats: No cooking oil, preservatives, pigments, etc; Only carefully selected high quality ingredients are used while baking.
Recommendations: Because there are no added preservatives, if not eaten immediately after taking home, it’s best to place the item in a sealed ziplock bag or freeze the item (for up to 2 weeks).
The tofu cake is best served after heated in a microwave for around 30 seconds.
Tarts are best served on the same day, but if it’s not possible, freeze it and let it defrost naturally before enjoying.
For all products: because of the use of coconut oil, if left out, the coconut oil may melt, so it’s best to keep it refridgerated rather than store at room temperature.
This cafe is open from 12:00 PM to 10:00 PM from Tuesday to Saturday, and 12:00 PM to 9:00 PM on Sunday. Like most cafes in Korea, it opens in the early afternoon and stays open until after dark. I would suggest getting there shortly after opening if you want to enjoy the cafe to yourself or want to get a seat next to one of the windows. Located on the second floor of a small building in Yeonnam-dong, like most cafes in this area, seating is limited, so if you try to go during its peak hours (4 pm-7 pm), you will likely have trouble finding a place to sit. I’m the type of person who enjoys going to a cafe in the morning so I can enjoy a book without being interrupted by others talking, so for me, anytime before 2 pm is ideal.
There is a somewhat limited selection of bakery items, ranging from biscotti to chocolate tarts. While I often read complaints regarding the size of the items, due to the denseness of the bread and the ingredients used, the price point feels justified. I can easily eat just one dessert and be full for the next few hours. I do, of course, have my favorites. I believe vegan desserts strength lies in chocolate (Vegan brownies>regular brownies), so I definitely recommend getting the chocolate tart which is located in the cold case in the front. However, I’m not the biggest fan of chocolate, so my three recommendations are the Sweet Pumpkin Pound Cake (단호박파운드), the Black Sesame Cookie (흑임자 쿠키), and my favorite, the Injeolmi Pound Cake (인절미파운드)*. Since “Pan Honesta’s” desserts are dense, I recommend getting a drink to go along with them, or if you’re taking something to go, you will definitely want to sit down and eat rather than stuff it in your mouth while walking. If you plan to stay there, each person in your party must order a drink to sit (so take this into account if you are budgeting your day out).
*Injeolmi is a Korean traditional rice cake. It ha a slightly roasted sweet taste to it, like that of mochi. It is a bit chewy, so I recommend having something to drink with it
-The pound cakes and tarts are delicious without being too sweet.
-It’s a great place to read earlier in the day if you need a comfortable place to enjoy your coffee/tea
-The ingredients are healthy and locally sourced
-The sizes of everything are moderate to small, meaning you won’t be too full after finishing (and for those who have sensitive stomachs – no bloating, even if you enjoy a latte)
-The scones are too dry for my taste, to the point where they crumble away without flavor
-I think the flavors of both the mugwort (쑥) and matcha (말차) are too intense for the size of the bread; especially for the mugwort, I feel a bit like I’m chewing on grain.
-The prices are a little on the high side. Especially factoring in that everyone must order a drink in order to dine-in