I confess – I am a rice purist. I am the person who trolleys down the rice aisle in Coles, turning up her nose at bags of long-grained rices of unknown origin and brands that promise a jasmine aroma. Not every long-grain can claim to be a basmati and I don’t particularly care if the sun rises on your Sun rice or your steamed bowl of white goodness could grace a Maharajah’s table. I’ve tried them all and they did not pass this chef’s test or palate.
Only one true brand exists for me – the Dehraduni basmati. Every few months, I make my foray into a little Indian store on Albany Highway in search of a bag of Maharani Dehraduni basmati rice. (Yes, the Maharanis of this world can outdo the Maharajahs any day). The rice comes in a five-kilo pack and so goes a long way for a family two. You can only imagine the tragedy of not finding a single bag on the shelf. Instead, I had to choose between India’s Crowns and Kohinoors – neither of which I was sure was going to be a jewel in my larder. Were I not satisfied with the Indian varieties, I could choose Pakistani basmati instead, which my mother promises me is twice as nice.
Dehraduni basmati brings back memories of a trip to Dehradun in the foothills of the Himalayas, when it was still a part of Uttar Pradesh. It is now the capital of the newer state of Uttarakhand. The town is home to the Doon School, the Indian Military Academy, and the Forestry Research Institute (among other notable institutions) and lies near the paddy fields it is famous for (among other things). We were visiting a mushroom factory (really a work-trip for my father) and also taking in the sights. This included a stomach-churning drive up into Mussoorie and the purchase of a woolen blanket at a market stall there that would one day warm my baby son – the blanket, not the stall. Family photos show me looking down palely at cable cars climbing a misty valley that is home to the writer Ruskin Bond. For the record: heights I do not do.
Now, clutching a bag of India Crown rice, also promising to be Dehraduni basmati, I head to the check out. I am not sure whether aromas of Himalayan hills will waft through my home as I cook my next lunch. To you it may just be another grain of rice but to me it’s a whole story about the places I have gone before and a reminder of how far I’ve come. I hope you enjoy your basmati, wherever you are!
PS: I would stick with the Maharani brand, if I were you, or Daawat *waiting for the sky to fall*. What’s your (basmati) rice story?