There was barely time for breakfast on the hour-long hop from Mumbai to Goa. The Jet Airways crew performed admirably though, serving fruits, pastries and coffee.
And as the seatbelt sign flashed back on I was enjoying the last few bites.
I needn’t have feared an empty stomach in any case. Goa is all about food with the flavours of India and Portugal, its colonial ruler, the dominant forces.
I was about to take a hands-on exploration of the cuisine in my temporary role as chef on hotel Alila Diwa Goa’s Fresh From The Catch experience. The venue was a 20-minute drive from the airport down palm-lined roads and past pretty Portuguese-style houses.
First stop though was Margao Market. Zico from Alila’s concierge team was my guide, bombarding me with useful facts about fish, food and Goan grub in general.
We were greeted by stalls crammed with buckets of fresh fish including unfamiliar varieties such as white and black pomfret, huge Indian salmon and the pretty doll fish.
It was like a warm, raw and rustic version of Billingsgate Market.
We headed back to hotel restaurant Spice Studio and its cookery school with our haul – half a kilo of white pomfret for 500 rupees (about £5.10), 700g of tiger prawns for the same fee and an imposing red snapper for 600 rupees.
Together, chef Shantaram and I scaled the snapper, prepared the prawns and sliced the pomfret into a pocket shape.
This was then doused in a chili and ginger rachado masala sauce and grilled.
Creating a coconut-based Goan curry was a highlight. The dish is best eaten as the locals do – by scooping up the spicy creamy liquid in a wholemeal naan.
During the creation and consumption of this three-course feast, the smiles on the faces of my friend and I were clearly visible.
Fast forward an evening and in the same spot we were unable to see much at all.
Spice Studio’s weekly Dine In The Dark event lives up to its name.
Starters, mains and desserts are served at the same time without cutlery but it’s a joy to get to grips with the five-or-so bowls of Goan curries, breads and sweetmeats, more or less at random.
Fantastic foodie experience
After a mouthful of Paneer I found myself sipping something sweet, before munching a prawn – fresher, fleshier and tastier than any I’d had before.
On the other side of the table my companion fell foul of the conditions after taking a big mouthful of an unexpectedly fiery dish.
But without the distraction of sight, the event allowed us to get to grips with the wide range of flavours on offer in Goa.
Against these fantastic foodie experiences, the hotel’s other restaurants didn’t measure up.
Vivo’s buffet breakfast was good and there was a big selection, but it was the same, tired format in the evening. Ordering a la carte proved a long-drawn out affair too, with cheery but slow service.
In addition, during both meals there were uncomfortable distractions disrupting the supposed serenity of the resort.
A team building exercise continually trampled through the breakfast room and, in the evening, staff were setting up for a wedding, working until past midnight.
If you’re seeking a hands-on foodie escape and an immersion into tradition, this is a step outside the usual.
And once you’re stuffed, a plush room awaits, just a few steps away.
■ The Fresh From The Catch experience is around £20pp (plus taxes). The Spice Studio Dine In The Dark is £10pp for the food. Prices exclude taxes.