PLANT serves innovative vegan and vegetarian fare to seoulites
Chances are, if you’ve ever visited High Street Market, you already know the illustrious Mipa Lee. She’s most widely known as the brains and baker behind Alien’s Day Out, Seoul’s lead provisioner of sugary-sweet confections made without eggs, butter or milk. In short, she’s responsible for making Alien’s Day Out — both the blog and bakeshop — synonymous with vegan indulgence. For anyone walking the egg- and dairy-free trail in Seoul, Mipa’s a mammoth. To add to her list of professional accomplishments, she’s now also the purveyor of PLANT, a studio/restaurant that’s been in the making for years.
Born in Busan to missionary parents, her history is “a little bit muddled,” she says with a grin. She spent most of her childhood growing up in West Africa, both in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, eating fried plantains, red-red and fufu, a traditional African concoction made of boiled and pounded cassava or yams. “I haven’t visited Ghana for a few years and I’m dying to go back. I miss the food so much. Filling, fatty, sticky, spicy ... it’s so delicious.”
Mipa left Ghana for the U.S., where she enrolled in a studio art program at a small school in Pennsylvania. She returned to Korea in 2006, all the while wrestling with the philosophy behind her consumption of meat. She changed her ways. “After a few years as a vegetarian, I made the full switch to veganism in 2008 and haven’t looked back since,” she said. “Since I was in Korea, I thought it would be interesting to share my experiences. Back then, the movement was still pretty new, so I started blogging.”
And that she did. She started Alien’s Day Out in April 2009. Its humble beginnings involved baking, baking some more, blogging about it and then repeating the process. As her vegan baking abilities developed, so did her blog’s following. Soon, people began emailing about where they could taste her creations, and she saw an opportunity to start selling.
“It took more than a year to get off the ground, but after the initial stages of development were over, I had to quit my job just to make time for all the baking.” She peddled her goodies to High Street Market and to Botton, a cute little coffee shop in the Noksapyeong neighborhood. She styled her own packaging, and completely took over the vegan baked goods market in Seoul without even realizing what had happened. “One day I suddenly saw ... there’s no way I can keep doing this out of my house!”
She explains all this while wrapped in a flour-stained apron and pink T-shirt, tucked behind a table in what has become the solution to her problem — PLANT. It’s a small space, homegrown and unpretentious, covered in art and trinkets and darling paper pamphlets that all illustrate one thing: Mipa lives here. She’s got all her favorite goodies spread out for sale — her cookies and biscotti and her gorgeous cinnamon peach cake — but she’s also got a whole host of new things bouncing around the kitchen, including her very cute and very energetic business partner, Yona Koh. Together they offer two lunch specials each day, including one totally vegan option and another that can be cheesed or egged if you prefer. They also sell a small selection of beverages like coffee, chai tea and spicy ginger ale. Weekly lunch menus are lovingly created in advance to allow time for testing, which also allows for a careful consideration of corresponding dessert selections for optimal vegan joy.
Ah, yes, dessert. That’s what’s on my mind as I ham it up with Mipa, and she takes the words right out of my mouth: “Here. You can taste this,” she says, passing over a towering slice of red velvet cake and a glass of cool water, the perfect accoutrement for a sunny morning. She smiles, we laugh, I take a quinoa cookie for the road and say goodbye until our next meeting, one that I know will need to come sooner, not later.
PLANT is the new face of vegan in Seoul. Go say hi, soak up the goodies and take a gander at Mipa’s vision. You won’t be left wanting.
Walk out Itaewon Station, exit 4. Walk straight down the street for about three minutes until the Converse store on your left. Turn left down the narrow staircase and down the alley, walk past Loft on your right and a pasta restaurant on your left. Continue two blocks down until you see the black PLANT sign under a tree. PLANT is just around the corner, on your right.