Souvenirs?

I have a hard time buying souvenirs.

I’m a terrible housekeeper, so I almost never buy tchotchkes that require dusting. Sometimes I try to get something that can be hung on the wall, but those items usually aren’t luggage-friendly. Often I get back home dismayed to realize that my ‘souvenirs’ are several crumpled airline ticket stubs and a half-empty hotel-sized bottle of body lotion.

On this trip I’ve done better! Besides the delightful pieces of pearl jewelry (see previous post), I’ll be bringing back a little kaleidescope from the shop of the Palace Museum in Taipei. (I love kaleidescopes.) And I’m very excited about the item that’s being purchased for me today…

I’m Korean-American, right? I grew up eating rice. The japonica variety–short-grained sticky Asian rice. Rice-love must be encoded in my DNA, because for years now I’ve been on a mission to sample as wide a range as possible of the world’s rices. Indian basmati and Thai jasmine: yummmm. I can eat unseemly amounts of the arborio and carnaroli risotto rices of Italy. Paella, pilaf, fried rice, rice and beans, yes please. I’ve chowed my way through all those fancy little Lotus-brand bags, Bhutan red rice, Forbidden black rice, etc. My favorite dish on the dim sum cart is the ‘treasure rice’–sticky rice steamed in a lotus leaf, with surprise goodies in each bite.

Here in Dhaka, to my surprise and utter delight, I found MY rice. The ‘if-forced-to-choose-only-one-kind-to-eat-for-the-rest-of-my-life’ rice. I ate it on my third day here; it was part of the hotel’s buffet. The waiter said it was ‘lemon rice,’ but of course what I wanted to know was the type, not the name of the dish. It wasn’t until the next day that I found out: It was Kalijira, known to the Bangla as ‘The Prince of Rice.’

It’s reminiscent of basmati, but with tiny exquisite grains–smaller than short-grain rice, and slender, not stubby. I realized that I’d eaten this rice before–the Lotus product, several years ago. But obviously I hadn’t cooked it right, because it left no strong impression.

The Kalijira on the hotel buffet was remarkable. I’m finding it difficult to explain exactly how or why. It was aromatic, like basmati, but more than that, the texture, the mouth-feel, was simply perfect. It was the Platonic ideal of rice. I got to eat it again at Joya’s house, which is where I learned what it was.

(I took a bite of the rice at Joya’s feast with a little trepidation, thinking that it couldn’t possibly be as good as I’d thought–that I’d been hungry at the hotel or whatever. Nope–it was EVEN BETTER.)

AISD’s upper-school librarian Colleen Boerner, my lovely host for this visit, consulted with her cook Paul, who knows the neighborhood markets intimately. Paul has kindly agreed to purchase two kilos of Kalijira for me today.

Now THAT’S a great souvenir.

What do you buy for souvenirs when you travel?