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Food and Drink: Did You Know?

Home Cooking

Fast food and restaurants are not popular options for many Indians who prize homemade meals—the purview of women in the household. In major cities, traffic congestion makes returning home for lunch nearly impossible. Instead, many women make multi-course lunches and pack them in tiffin boxes (tiered metal lunch boxes) to send to their sons or husbands via a local delivery service.

Dabbawalla

Dabbawalla (messengers) transport thousands of homemade lunches to offices at lunchtime via bicycles and trains, and even clean and return the tiffin boxes to the residence at the end of the day. The distribution network has been the subject of international study, accreditation, and wonder. It is an extremely efficient system with few errors, despite its massive scale. Many independent operations run in major cities, and each employs mostly illiterate men who have an astounding capacity to memorize dozens of delivery addresses without using labels; to navigate across large cities on foot, bike, or public transportation; to deliver meals in a timely fashion; and to return the tiffin boxes at the end of each day. Some women have started small businesses selling tiffin meals, and some delivery companies also make the meals, but it is still common for wives or mothers to make the portable meals for the working men in their households.