Should I Become a Dabbawala??

Lunch Fare

I haven’t cooked on camera the past two nights because of my work schedule, so I thought I’d put up some of my shots of India and a video or two

From what I’ve seen, Bento Boxes are a big deal in the blog world. I’ve run across blogs that detail a Bento Box art and blog about Cute Bento Boxes with Western ingredients and blogs about Building a Better Bento Box. It goes on and on. There’s even a Flickr group dedicated to the Bento Box!

I’ve been interested in some of these blogs because I’ve always liked the compact, neatly packed, delicious contents of a good bento box. I’ve had them in Japanese restaurants around the world an even on airplanes when traveling to Asia.

In India Tiffin Boxes, tins of hot lunch food delivered to workers in Mumbai are the thing, but I don’t see many blogs about them. The Tiffin Box and it’s accompanying delivery system by Dabbawalas in Mumbai is a remarkable story really. In the days of British rule when British people coming to India who didn’t like the local food had a service set up to deliver lunch to their workplace. In today’s India, the tiffin box delivery system is a thriving business and I recall seeing a piece done about the service on CNN a couple of years ago in which they noted that there were only a handful of missed deliveries in the 100 years that the service has been available.

The Wiki article claims 1 mistake in 16,000,000 deliveries! The site, the official site for tiffin delivery claims 1 mistake in 6,000,000 deliveries. Either way, it’s an incredible success story and in light of the fact that the process is basically technology free, it’s pretty damn amazing.

It seemed a little funny, unexpected really, that we were invited to help in the Christmas Cake preparation festivities at the Oberoi Hotel that season, but it was a fun event, as you can see from the smiles on our faces. Maybe that was the bottle of booze that I had in my hand that we were smothering those little candied fruits in. Yeah, what they call Christmas Cake is the Fruitcake you and I avoid like the plague!

Imagine this … delivery of up to almost a quarter of a million tiffin boxes filled with a home cooked, hot meal with almost uninterrupted service to workers in scores of office buildings in any weather condition with barely a mistake. The boxes go on trains, and bicycle and through roads filled with more traffic than I can explain to anyone that has not had the opportunity to experience it for themselves. There are many potential points of failure, but the Dabbawalla system with a reported growth rate of 5-10% annually with Six Sigma Quality and ISO certifications seems almost flawless in these times of speed of light technology.

Although most have cell phones now, messages still make their way into the boxes, bringing communication back to pre-technology days.

Now that you know a bit about Tiffin Boxes, take a look around and see if you can come up with more blogs that feature the convenient stack of tins that hook together for easy carrying for a DEElicious meal. I’ve only found a few. With 1.1 billion people in India, you’d think there would be a preponderance of blogs that at least mention them.

So, why do I tell you all of this? Well, I went to the grocery store and parked next to me was a van with an advertisement for The Tiffin Box Catering. I thought about the tiffin box and how I used to cater lunches to local office buildings … a long time ago. So when I got home I Googled the company and what I found wasn’t what I expected. I saw no Indian food on the menu! I would have been disappointed if I were looking for lunch catering with Indian inspiration and found a menu with Western and a few East Asian items listed.

OMG! My hair! What was with the color they made my hair when I was living in India? And how self conscious was I standing next to all those beautiful local women and could my Salvar be any brighter?!

So,this got me to thinking … should I start up another catering operation, but this time doing it in Tiffin Box style? Instead of rolling up to an office building with a variety of sandwiches and salads and soups and deserts, people could email in their order first thing in the morning, or the night before and I would deliver between the hours of 12:00 – 2:00. But then I looked at the logistics and there were far more items listed in the cons column than in the pros column as you can see below:

I am not into the raw food movement — sure, I like a lot of raw foods, but everything I eat doesn’t need to be raw — anyway, you can get a good look at a Tiffin Box in this video.


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