We get 2 hours (noon to 2PM) for lunch at KYM but since my apartment is about 20-25 minutes from the yoga center, I went out to nearby restaurants all last week for lunch. While I liked the food I had, I found the options somewhat limiting. When I found out that there was a local lady who cooked for some of my fellow yoga students I jumped at the chance to get some home cooked meals. Last Friday I went to visit a friend’s apartment (my possible new home if I end up moving), I happened to run into the lunch lady, Kala. She agreed to make my lunch and deliver the meal to my friend’s apartment to make things easier. She drops the meals off around noon and collects the empty dabbas (Indian tiffin boxes) the next day. I was excited by the prospect of this whole transaction since I knew about the fascinating way the lunches are delivered in big cities. What Kala is doing is not exactly what happens in Mumbai where office workers and school children get their lunches from home delivered each day by a group of men (called dabbawallahs) but I looked forward to my lunch today nonetheless.
It is said that the British started the dabba delivery and pick up system over 100 years ago when an influx of workers from different parts of India came to bigger cities and they found the food not to their liking. They set up a process where home cooked meals can get delivered to their offices. I think it’s in Mumbai where 5 thousand men deliver close to 500,000 lunch boxes each day. This elaborate process starts when the food is picked up from the worker’s home or from a caterer by dabbawallahs on bicycles. The lunch boxes are then sorted by groups based on their delivery locations and taken to the railway station where the boxes are loaded onto trains. At their destination railway station, the local dabbawallahs pick up the lunch boxes and take them to the individual offices by lunch time. After lunch, the lunch boxes are picked up again and the process reverses so that the boxes make their way all the way back home. I read that this delivery system carries an extremely small error rate and is considered one of the most efficient processes in the world. Keep in mind that the dabbawallahs don’t use any computers and it’s likely that some of them are illiterate. I think the error rate is something like 5 in 1 million instances. Isn’t that amazing!
My lunch box didn’t travel very far and I learned that Kala herself is not the cook. She, who can speak some English, facilitates the process by taking orders and delivering the lunch boxes but the cooking is done by some other local ladies. After my morning classes were finished, I practically skipped over to the friend’s house to see our tiffin box waiting for us on the dining room table (Kala has a key to the apartment to make the delivery). Like a child ripping open his Christmas present I was eager to see what the lunch box contained. The top box held warm chapatis, the next box had daal (today it was lentils with some spinach), and the bottom two boxes had two different types of vegetables. The food was warm and tasty. It felt clean (not very much oil), not very spicy (a welcome change even though I love spices), and I liked the starch to veggie ratio. It’s amazing how much rice and starch an average Indian man can eat! I really wanted to eat more vegetables and less carbs, and that’s exactly what I got. Another great Indian experience to add to my list, all for about $2 per day. Can’t wait for lunch tomorrow!