The drive from the Courtyard Marriott Agra to the Jaipur Marriott was, if nothing else, an adventurous one. We booked the car service through our Taj Mahal guide. Our driver arrived at the appointed time, and we wound our way through Agra, on the scenic route, to the highway that connects Agra and Jaipur. Escaping Agra took almost an hour on its own.
I am not sure if the driver was based in New Delhi, and drove the 3 hours to Agra before our 10am departure, or if he was just plain old tired. But, about an hour into our trip, Eric found him falling asleep at the wheel. Eric repeatedly asked if we was okay, and encouraged him to have a coffee when we took a break at the half way point. We took a longer break than normal ourselves at the rest stop in hopes that the driver would take his own rest. He seemed to be more alert during the second half of the journey, and we arrived safely at the Jaipur Marriott around lunch time. Even traveling India in comfort has its own set of excitement and uncertainty.
Dining at the Jaipur Marriott
It seemed that moments after arriving at the Jaipur Marriott, and once we fully realized we arrived safely, we were off meeting Chef Sunil and his staff. Chef Sunil provided us a quick tour of Okra, their buffet restaurant. Similar to the JW Marriott Mumbai and JW Marriott New Delhi, Okra was a mix of International cuisine and Indian. Of course, I wanted to focus on the Indian.
Even within the Indian display, Chef Sunil explained to us about some of the seasonings they use and their focus on regional Rajasthani cuisine. I also learned about some of the unique dining requirements people of Jain faith have. I am well aware of the dining requirements of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, but learning about the Jains was entirely new to me. Jains are vegetarians, but also do not eat potatoes, garlic, or onion. Chef Sunil has a special selection of vegetarian Jain food for each meal. I respect their decision, of course, but could not imagine living in a world without garlic. I could forgo the onion though.
We ate a few of our meals at Okra, and although the chefs wanted to show off their international foods, we stuck to Indian for our last few days. We tasted some amazing paneer and lamb curries. At each meal, we received a basket of fresh naan with different preparations, most notably chili pepper, which added a kick to some of the spicy curries.
The Battle of the Tandoor Eggs –
Jaipur Marriott vs. Courtyard Marriott Agra
Of the dishes we ate at the Jaipur Marriott, one dish stuck out. While dining with Chef Vivek at the Courtyard Marriott Agra, he offered us a plate of tandoori egg whites. He played a little joke on us, though, asking that we try to figure out what it was from the taste. The dish looked like paneer or tofu, but it was egg white in disguise. Ingenious.
When Eric uploaded a picture of the dish on Facebook no one could guess what it was. Even when we said they were egg whites, people didn’t believe it. How could you get egg whites to be in a large cubed form, and then stay together when cooking in the tandoor oven.
What happened when we arrived at the Jaipur Marriott, though, was a perfect example of the passion that the chefs we met have for food.
We showed the photo of the tandoor egg whites to Chef Sunil, who promptly showed the photo to some of his staff. Within 30 minutes, he presented us an almost identical dish. Because they made it in a rush, the egg whites did not have enough time to fully set into the mold, so they placed sliced peppers between them to help the egg whites keep their shape in the tandoor oven. Other than that, the dish was spot on.
I hoped that Chef Vivek in Agra would not be disappointed that we gave up his secret dish. I, for one, found it interesting that Chef Sunil would see a dish he had never heard of before and immediately want to try to make it.
Exploring Jaipur – the Pink City
We only had one tour booked for our time in Jaipur, a hot air balloon ride on our last day. Unfortunately, it was cancelled due to weather conditions. Even before the cancellation, though, we tried to figure out how to explore Jaipur on our own. More than any of the other three cities we visited in India, Jaipur was the one I wanted to get out and actually see.
Jaipur is known as the Pink City, and is the largest city of Rajasthan. Most of the buildings in the center of the city have been painted pink, a color that apparently denotes hospitality. The pink coloring also comes from the Rajasthani red and pink sandstone that is used to construct the buildings, but also due to a requirement to use pink paint. We hired a driver for the morning, to drive us around town, let us out to walk around and explore, and then pick us back up again. It was the easiest way to organize a visit, and we booked it through the concierge.
Our driver escorted us through one of the city gates, and eventually dropped us off at the City Palace. We started our walk around town. Of the four cities we visited, I found Jaipur to be the easiest to navigate on our own.
My number one requirement for Jaipur included a visit to the famous Hawa Mahal. Anytime I Googled Jaipur, this was the building that featured prominently in the results.
Hawa Mahal translates to Palace of the Wind or Palace of the Breeze. Several stories high, it served as a place where the women of the royal family could watch the world below, while being protected from view. It essentially formed a wind screen. The detailed carvings and the sheer number of windows were just mind blowing. Despite being one of the top sites to see in Jaipur, there were very few people around. Unlike the Taj Mahal, we were able to take loads of unobstructed photos, which was a pleasant surprise.
After stopping to admire the Hawa Mahal, we continued to explore the Pink City. Street vendors beckoned us to come into their shops. We hung out and watched a gaggle of monkeys parading across the rooftops. I couldn’t tell if the pigeons were scared of the monkeys, or vice versa.
We watched all of the cows lounging around empty parking lots, or more likely, on sidewalks.
We learned about the colorful sand designs that people in the area use to welcome guests.
While waiting for our driver at the end of our walk, we sat on a bench in front of a very large temple. I am unsure whether this was an auspicious day, or just a typical day of worship in Jaipur, but the number of people entering and exiting the Govind Devji temple was simply extraordinary. I sat mesmerized by the women and their bright and colorful saris, as they walked every which way. I could hardly focus my eyes there were so many colors. For me, this was the perfect way to end our final day tour in India.
Our Last Night Traveling In India – Saffron at the Jaipur Marriott
For our last night in India, Chef Sunil hosted us at his “baby,” Saffron. Saffron is a more exclusive restaurant focusing on specialities of Jaipur and surrounding Rajasthan. He provided us a tour of the kitchen and showed us how they make naan in the tandoor oven. I am sure for Indians, seeing how an everyday bread is made seems simple enough. For me, it was really amazing to see how they press the dough up against the side of the tandoor, and then remove the soft and flaky flat bread just moments later.
Our meal at Saffron felt elegant, and perfect for our final dinner in India. Two musicians played classical Indian music while we sat for a bit and talked with Chef Sunil.
We didn’t even order off the menu, as Chef Sunil planned a traditional Rajasthani Thali platter for us, with a mix of meat and vegetable curries. At one point I counted and there were approximately 30 bowls and platters on our table for this meal. Lamb curries, dal, vegetables, chutneys, and more. Even with the royal spread, we were asked a few times whether we wanted to repeat any of the dishes. I could barely finish what was placed in front of us.
Each of the chefs we met during our time traveling in India had his own unique personality and mannerisms. But, one thing rang through with each of them – their passion for the food they prepare. Oh, and one more thing, their interest in stuffing us to the point of no return.
Our Experience Eating In India
When we started our journey around Northern India, I knew we would eat a good number of our meals in the hotels. After all, we write about food travel, and the hotels hosting us wanted us to write about their food. I swore, though, that we would try to eat local, and escape the hotel dining scene at least a few times.
But, I just couldn’t do it. Part of this was because of my desire to not get sick. I mean, who actually wants to get sick when traveling. I would consider it a badge of honor to travel in India for 10 days and NOT get sick.
In the end though, there was one other thing that affected my decision to play it safe: the food at the hotels was phenomenal. We ate Indian three times a day each day of our trip. We tried our favorite Indian dishes, and explored tons of new dishes we had never heard of before.
The hotels brought street food in to the restaurants to give travelers the opportunity to taste the foods in a comfortable and safe environment. The chefs explained the cuisines of the various regions, what the differences were between the regions, and even what dishes they were serving in the restaurants that were based on family recipes.
The few times we ate outside of the hotels, the food was good. But, it was just not as good as the food inside the hotels. The food inside the hotels was not only reliably safe, it often came with a story and an explanation.
We’ve had some success recently with high quality meals inside hotels, particularly when dining in Costa Brava, and while staying with Marriott in Seoul and Bali. But, the Marriott properties in India took things to a whole new level and made our trip to India memorable, and yummy.
We were hosted by the Jaipur Marriott during our stay in the Pink City, but as always, my opinions are all my own. Rooms at the Jaipur Marriott start around $105.
For more information about India, see our India Travel Guide, for information on accommodations, what to eat, and tours to book. And, click here to book the Jaipur Marriott, or any Marriott property.