School Lunch in India

Serious Eats' Culinary Ambassadors check in from time to time with reports on food fare in their homeland or countries of residence. Here's the latest! —The Mgmt.


Clockwise from left: Vegetable medley, curried fresh cheese and peas (mutter paneer), lentil stew (dal), and unleavened whole wheat flat breads (roti). [Photograph: Maya Srinivasan]

In India, school lunches are usually provided by loving mothers, not school cafeterias! In fact, this love of home-cooked food has given rise to a unique type of food-service worker, known as the "dabbawalla," or literally, person with a box.

These workers collect freshly cooked food from the homes of school-going children and deliver it to them at school, collecting the empty containers once lunch is over. They provide this service to adults who work in offices, too.

The "tiffin dabba" (lunch box) that most people use consists of a number of stacking stainless steel containers, all of which are held together by a steel frame that also serves as a handle. (See the Wikipedia entry on the subject.)

So what's in one of these lunch boxes? It varies from region to region, since India is a country with tremendous diversity in food. Most commonly, though, you will find unleavened whole wheat flat breads (roti) accompanied by a lentil stew (dal), and one or two vegetable and/or meat curries. They may also include rice and/or yogurt. And all of these are made from scratch. We Indians are pretty serious about home cooking.

Maya Srinivasan

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