Qi Food, Uncategorized
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Lessons from Mumbai: Dabbawala old school fast food

For anyone living in a western country, poor or developed we all have to at least spend some portion of our money and time in a lunch break. It is estimated that in Britain the sandwich industry contributes around £7.85bn to the domestic economy.

However if you are disciplined enough to prepare your daily lunch box or -even better- have someone else to prepare it for you, you will be saving some good money at the end of the year, apart from the obvious benefits of ensuring a healthy meal.

But let’s face it, however fancy your average lunchbox will hardly exceed two items, perhaps a sandwich or a salad and a snack or a fruit.


Now what would you think if I told you there’s a place: Mumbai, where working people (often bureaucrats –and mostly men-) have a daily delivery, literally to their desks of at least 4 different courses plus nan, chapatis or other bread to accompany their meals. All hot, all freshly made. Usually by their wives but also by specialized businesses which work in coordination with the Mumbai Tiffin Box Supplier’s Association.

But what does Dabawala mean? It literally translates to tiffin box carrier. The Dabawala industry is a highly praised, studied and admired business. It has a straightforward but at the same time complex and highly efficient delivery system. It was initially designed and originally run by former servicemen from the Malva-caste of soldiers.

dabbaAn average of 5000 employees are responsible for collecting, delivering and returning around 170,000 meals every day, by bicycle and train. Using only a coding system of letters and numbers engraved or painted on the tiffin boxes to indicate the place of origin, destination and carrier.

 Such pride the Dabawalas take in the efficiency of their work that it is calculated that they actually get about 99.9999% of the deliveries right which is quite a big deal, considering that Mumbai –the financial and entertainment capital of India- is also the most populous urban centre in the country with about 12,478,44 people.


What’s in an average tiffin box?

A lunch menu usually includes a rich dhal, this is a lentil spiced soup followed by rice, side vegetables such as green beans, chickpeas, cauliflower, etc. A curry and dessert. Freshly made bread such as Lachha paratha, Bhatura, Roti or Nan is carefully folded and packed in one of the tiffin containers.

I also recommend you to watch “The Lunchbox” a bittersweet film about, love, mourning, indifference and hope. Yes it is Indian and no there’s no singing, so go stream it it’s already available on Netflix.

The Lunchbox


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