By Lee Kim Chew
"ALL local catch", the chief chef promises.
At Lobster Shack in Taj Exotica, a resort hotel in Goa by the Arabian Sea, executive chef Arun Sundararaj offers his haul of giant prawns, lobsters, pomfret, mullet, snapper, baby sharks, shells and squid.
Take your pick and tell him how you like it cooked. He'll do it in any style. If you go local, he promises finger-licking good Goan fare.
First, sip Feni cocktail. It's a white, frothy mix of fermented cashew nut extract and pineapple juice blended with rich cream in crushed ice. The spirit of Goa is sweet, smooth and mildly intoxicating.
It tastes great with the lapping waves and sea breeze under the stars while you wait for dinner by the beach.
Start with grilled king prawn or lobster marinated in Goan spices. Fresh, tender, tasty stuff from the Arabian Sea.
But the thrill is in eating peri peri chilli crab and lobster. The crustaceans are cooked in a dark paste that mixes garlic, Kashmiri chilli, ginger, cinnamon, coriander and toddy vinegar.
It looks like Singapore's pepper crab, but the sweet and spicy texture is distinctively Goan.
Douse the gravy on unpolished Goan rice - a wholesome, fat grain that's not sticky or starchy.
There's a bounce in the bite and with its full-bodied feel, you could mistake it for barley in the first mouthful.
Pomfret fillet in Goan curry goes well with the unpolished rice. So does tandoori-baked fresh mullet.
Also try this on the Goa menu:
◊ Tisreo masala - fresh clams cooked with curry powder, chilli, onions, coconut and tomato. Its sprightly taste is exotically Goan.
◊ Pineapple sanson - it's sweet, sour and spicy. A combi of mustard, curry leaves and coconut.
◊ Koth Koth The - mixed vegetables in coconut curry.
◊ Moongchegatti - green lentil concoction, with the bean sprouts tossed with coconut. Very tasty.
◊ Prawn sukha masala - cooked with onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, Goan spices. A dry, mouth-watering dish.
◊ Rice kheer - a delicious mix of milk, rice, sugar, strawberry, watermelon and grapes.
Not too sweet, the Basmati rice garnished with green mint leaf comes as a creamy, sweet dessert with a heavenly taste.
To wash it all down, take the solkadi drink. It's coconut juice and kokum, a local fruit, with a dash of green chilli and salt.
The creamy taste reminds you of garlic.
Unusual, but it has a pleasant taste that makes you ask for more.
Taj Exotica in Goa spells luxury. The beach resort nestled in 56 acres of greenery is a favourite with celebrities and bigwigs.
Its thick wooden roof beams, rafters, humungous lobby, ceiling fans, period furnishings, pool tables, nine-hole golf course and sprawling garden with a 700m beach front make for splendid living.
Venture out of its sprawling grounds to visit Goa's flea market, which assembles on Wednesday by the beach.
Itinerants from Tibet to Australia and the locals sell cheap clothes, trinkets, spices, herbs, fake Rolex watches and ayurvedic medicines that a shirtless Indian peddler claims can cure ailments from "sexual weakness" to sunstroke and scabies.
If you don't care for the bargains, go and fish, dive, snorkel, para-sail or enjoy other sea sports. Goa's sandy beaches stretch on endlessly.
Inland, visit the Mahalsa Narayan Hindu Temple, which has oil lamp towers that need a scaffold to light them up.
Or take a walking lesson in the spice plantation and sip hot lemon grass tea, a thirst-quenching Goan mix of ginger and cardamom tea.
See the agility of the betel nut tree climber. He races up a swaying palm, plucks the fruit and then leaps from tree to tree. He harvests from about 70 palms before sliding down to earth.
In the Basilica of Bom Jesus of Goa lies the body of pioneering Portuguese missionary St Francis Xavier.
The church, built in 1695 and now a world heritage monument, is an excellent example of baroque architecture in India. The saint's body, in full regalia, is visible in its glass case.
The writer's trip was arranged by India Tourism.
Jet Airways operates 21 weekly flights from Singapore, with daily services to Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. It has domestic services to Goa. Go to www.jetairways.com for more information.
WHERE TO STAY
The Taj group has three hotels in Goa: Taj Exotica, Fort Aguada Beach Resort, Taj Holiday Village.
-Special Projects Unit