Anyone for tiffin?

Published: Monday, 8 April 2019

An 18th century provincial English word, ‘tiff’ or ‘tiffing’, meaning to take a small drink or simply to sip or sipping, led to the introduction of the Anglo Indian word tiffin.

When the English established themselves within India during the early days of the British Raj the climate was not conducive to the consumption of large heavy meals at lunchtime for westerners so often a light meal would be taken at midday with tea and cake enjoyed in the late afternoon. This practice of enjoying a cup of tea with a light snack became known as tiffin or tiffin time. As the years progressed the word tiffin changed slightly in meaning to encompass the definition of any snack or light meal normally taken at any time between breakfast and dinner.

Photo credit: Joe Zachs from Pune, India

The word caught on with the indigenous population and today, particularly in Mumbai and other large cities on the sub-continent, office workers are delivered their light lunches and snacks served in tiffin boxes or tiffin tins by armies of tiffinwallahs or dabbawhallas, dabba being an alternative Indian name for tiffin. Tiffinwallahs collect the tiffin tins from railway stations to where they are sent daily by workers’ families and in Mumbai alone, deliver over a quarter of a million meals sent from individuals’ homes to their places of work daily. Apparently these conscientious delivery boys have an enviable 99.99% success rate of delivering the correct tin to the correct, expectant and hungry owner!

Photo credit: Indranil Mukherjee

Tiffin tins are generally made of metal and consist of either 3 or 4 tiers which are stacked on top of each other then fastened with a lid and clamp which serves as a handle and seal to avoid spillage.

Photo credit: Joe Zachs from Pune, India

Here at Sarpech we are currently trialling tiffin recipes in our kitchen which we intend to serve to customers as bar snacks/finger food in the near future. It is anticipated that each tiffin tin will contain three tiers and hence three different snacks and there will be meat and vegetarian options available. The tiffin menu will change regularly and will be displayed in the bar. Priced at £9.95 for either tiffin tin, with a small surcharge for fish or prawn dishes, we are sure that this will become a popular feature, particularly for those enjoying an after work drink on their way home. Further details will appear on our social media platforms during April so watch this space!

Credit - main photo: by Steve Evans Mumbai Dabbawala or Tiffin Wallahs

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