What do you envisage when you hear the word ‘tiffin box’? It may be a steel container with the yummiest food on earth made by mom or a complete meal that comes in steel or plastic containers which looks good no matter the taste. How and where did the word tiffin box originate? It originated in British India, and probably is found today only as part of Indian English. This concept of lunch or light snack in a box originated when Indian custom of eating a full meal in the afternoon superseded the British practice of an afternoon dinner. And thus was born the word ‘lunch’ for an afternoon meal. Now a lunch box would necessarily mean a proper heavy meal packed in a box for lunch but there are places like those in South India and Nepal where tiffin box is a term used for between-meals snacks. They are a common site in India and are generally used to carry home-made food to work.
In other parts of India, however, a lunch box would be packed lunch, whether made for a husband by his wife or for school children by their mother. And if you stay in Mumbai, you can vouch for this sumptuous meal served to you by the world famous ‘Dabbawallas’. These dabbawallahs or tiffin delivery men in Mumbai largely cater the enormous working crowd as they take their piping hot lunch to their desks. These often consist of dal, rice, vegetables, chapatis, meat and some accompaniments like salad, pickle and papads.
The Dabbawallahs collect over twenty tiffins each from the office worker wives' homes, these are filled with hot fresh lunch and the job of these delivery men is to deliver these boxes to offices dotted around the city whilst food is still hot. It’s amazing to see the speed at which these people deliver the dabbas or boxes and how concisely. They are to many, a blessing as people in this tinsel town are more than busy with work and crave for the piping hot food without having to go out to grab a bite. These boxes generally come in two or three tier aluminum or stainless steel stacked compartments held tightly together by a catch on either side of the handle. The compartments of the box help keep the various components of the meal separate as also to avoid leaks or spills.
The concept of food containers goes back a long way, but its localization globally is credited to the diligent dabbawallahs of Mumbai, who proved that taking food to schools, colleges and offices alone can be a business that engages thousands and helps many more. Tiffin boxes are indeed a way of life for most people. They depict love for your spouse or children for whom you cook food with love and ensure that they do not end up eating junk outside. At the same time you are helping them save money which can then be splurged on more important things. And you prove yourself a super organizer as you plan ahead for a packed lunch or snack everyday of the week.