My last (fond) memory of driving Honda’s compact crossover HR-V was that of me trying to keep up with the frenetic pace of the motoring media convoy that was going up the notoriously twisty and steep 12-kilometer route from Talisay town beside scenic Taal Lake to Tagaytay junction 700 meters up.
That was almost two years ago, and I felt my adrenaline levels at the time could have matched the RPMs of the agile HR-V, whose 1.8-liter i-VTEC engine that generated 139hp (150 kW) of power and 172 Nm of torque took on the route like a cat to catnip.
Last week, I was once more in possession of the keys to an HR-V, this time an RS variant. Rather than replicating that dizzying feat of 2018, I decided to go on a more relaxed pace, on a route that wasn’t as twisty and steep, yet delighted my other sense—that of my taste.
This time, the route traversed the South Luzon Expressway (SLEx), through Calamba and on to Los Baños as I made my way to one of the most popular vegan/vegetarian destinations of that locale: Satya Graha Café and Restaurant owned and managed by Kisig Lopez and his family.
Located at a quiet corner on 1460 Siving Street in Lopez Ave, Satya Graha is also the headquarters of Vegetari Healthy Bites, maker of the Chichashrooms snack and Vegchon de Leche, both of which have been steadily growing in popularity. The good news is, Satya Graha is Wazeable. The over 60-km drive from Manila takes anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours, depending on the day and the time. One can either take SLEx and exit to Calamba, or the Silang, Cavite route via Coastal Road and Cavite Expressway (Cavitex).
Pinoy meals, sans the meat
I wasted no time ordering Satya Graha’s bestsellers for me and my friends that day: Fried Vegan GG (a dish that imitates the taste and texture of the galunggong fish); Vegchon Kawali (with vegan sarsa); vegan kare-kare with veggie bagoong (the fish paste not sourced from fish); Mushroom-tofu sisig; Chizen (imitating fried chicken); and for dessert, I had vegan chocolate cake (surprisingly rich, creamy and moist despite its being dairy- and egg-free) and refreshing lemon juice with blue ternate flower (sipped using environmentally friendly paper straw).
The Vegchon Kawali was crispy-licious, though I would advise that it should be consumed while still hot, as the vegchon has the tendency to harden some more as it cools down, the kare-kare was tasty even without the help of the vegan bagoong, and the mushroom-tofu sisig met my expectations, as good as any plant-based sisig dishes of other known vegan restaurants. My stomach just didn’t have enough space for my other Satya Graha favorite, the Grilled Tuna’y Vegly, but I would strongly recommend that for motorists trying out this restaurant for the first time.
After a hearty lunch at Satya Graha, and taking in the calming ambiance of this family-style restaurant, we drove off at mid-afternoon to Alfonso in Cavite—a two-hour, 66-km long drive to another vegan/vegetarian restaurant, Sentro Botanikos Cafe and Eco-farm, for an early dinner.
From Los Baños, the drive led us up to Tagaytay Ridge via SLEx and the Santa Rosa-Tagaytay Road. The HR-V and I were again re-acquainted with the magnificent scenery of Taal Lake and its active volcano, which just recently erupted and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of residents living near the caldera.
Home of vegan bulalo
This afternoon, however, I was in pursuit of another caldera, rather caldero, of a more delicious and compassionate kind. Sentro Botanikos Eco-Farm, located at 217 Buck Estate Road in Alfonso, Cavite, serves the best vegan bulalo this side of Taal. I wanted badly to take a sip of that piping hot broth before it became too dark and nippy.
Though Sentro Botanikos is also Wazeable, its more popular landmark is Sonya’s Garden a mere half-kilometer away.
If a jacket or sweater can’t do the job of warming you up, then let the vegan bulalo do its thing. Not only will it do wonders for your palate, it will warm your heart and take good care of it, because no cow was killed in order to make it, and it’s free from the “sebo” and bad cholesterol associated with the meat-based bulalo.
Sentro Botanikos isn’t just about its vegan bulalo served in palayok. My other go-to dishes here are adobo ni Lola, paksiw m’chon, fresh garden salad with balsamic vinegar, and the mushroom sisig—all of these are absolutely meat-free. The owners describe the sisig as a well-crafted, time-tested dish from their days running Azotea Greens in Baguio (yes, the same team led by Joel Carlos, the man behind Azotea Greens along Session Road) that closely mimics the creaminess and texture of the meat-based sisig, but using non-meat alternatives such as mushroom, tofu, soy protein and root crops. What you’ll eat in this restaurant are all plant-based goodies, including the mock meat. Furthermore, the veggies used in the salads and dishes are all harvested from the eco-farm literally just a stone’s throw away from our dining tables.
My group enjoyed the food as much as the ride itself, thanks to the HR-V’s surprising roominess. The HR-V, as expected, was nimble and free-spirited to easily take on the climbs and twisties of Tagaytay Ridge, especially when in Sport mode. The HR-V’s handling was made more confident with the vehicle stability assist (VSA), preventing the vehicle from over- or understeering, and the hill start assist (HAS) was handy when I was stuck in traffic on the way up to the Ridge, preventing the vehicle from rolling back at steep inclines. The RS suspension, however, was a bit too firm especially when taking on rough roads.
My best fuel consumption was 16.8 km/liter in the highway run (on Eco-mode). I couldn’t do better than my 17.3 km/liter reading in 2018, but that may be because I was hauling five full stomachs today, stomachs that didn’t require sacrificing any animal life to fill.
For that, my heart is full.
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