Unpacking the Indian Lunchbox with Cooking Circles Canberra and Joy Indian Restaurant

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This week Cooking Circles Canberra‘s hosted their biggest ever event at Joy Indian RestaurantUnpacking the Indian Lunchbox.

Shafique and his lovely wife Farhana, proud owners of the recently opened Joy Indian Restaurant, generously welcomed over 50 Canberra women and taught and prepared some of the dishes that go into the Indian lunchbox.

Some had come along last year to Shafique’s Cooking Circles Bangladeshi workshop at Taste of Bangladesh in Manuka. Last year it was delicious so Cooking Circles regulars were expecting equally wonderful food from Shafique this time.


But before we started cooking, we needed to know the amazing story of the Indian Lunchbox….


Mumbai has an incredibly efficient and economical lunch delivery system that is over 125 years old.


Six days a week, 5,000 Dabbawallahs collect over 200,000 home cooked meals, deliver them to offices and then return the lunchbox or dabba to the cook at home charging only $10 a month.
It all started in 1890 when Mahadeo, like many others, arrived in Bombay seeking to make his fortune.

Mahadeo quickly realised that those who did have work, found it particularly tricky to eat the kind of home cooked lunch they wanted.

It was hard for the home cook to have the rice, bread and curry ready by 7am when their menfolk left for work and if they did get up super early, it would all be cold by lunch time.
So Mahadeo recruited 100 men and started the now famous Bombay lunch delivery system.
This is how it works. Office workers leave home around around 7 o’clock…

….when their wives, sisters and mothers are busy cooking.


Then the Dabbawallahs start work around 8:30 after a quick road side Chai with their mates.
They are easily recognisable by their white cotton Kurta pyjamas and their Gandhi style cap.
Dabbawallahs are organised into groups of 25 who work together all their working lives.
If someone leaves, they recruit a friend of relative, which means that most Dabbawallahs are from the town of Pune. It also means they are great friends!

About 9 o’clock each Dabba wallah picks up around 30 different lunches from home cooks and then by bike takes them to the nearest train station….

…. where they get coded and sorted by another Dabbawallah who loads them onto the train.
Then they are taken by another Dabbawallah to the end point station.


The lunch delivery system all depends on Mumbais amazing railways, and timing is tight to fit with the train timetable.
There’s about 30 seconds to load or unload at stations.
Needless to say, no Dabbawallah gets to eat his own lunch until well after everyone else.
The lunchboxes are often carried in wooden crates on Dabbawallahs heads.

The coding system uses colours shapes and numbers.
The code identifies the Dabbawallahs at each stage of the process, the collection neighbourhood, office building and floor. The colour of the bag identifies the office worker.
At the end station, a local Dabbawallahs collects the lunchbox and delivers it to the right person in the right office by 12:30. Mistakes are incredibly rare, 1 in 8,000.
The office worker enjoys a lovingly cooked home made meal just the way his wife, mother or sister knows he likes it!

Then at 5pm it all happens in reverse. And the dabba or Lunchbox gets safely delivered back to the home cook.

The dabba wallahs also have started a system where any uneaten food can be identified by a sticker and taken to feed those in need, all at no cost to the client. This is a service to the community by the Dabbawallahs.
Dabbawallahs consider their work to be worthy and noble. They are serving God by delivering healthy, nourishing food and will be blessed.
And to it was to Shafique who told us more about the foods that go into the Dabba!


We tried our hand at rolling roti and learnt to cook it in our home frypan.


We also learnt to cook lentil vegetable rice….


….and Chicken Kadai all typical dishes that might be found in many an Indian lunchbox!

And finally we all sat down to enjoy a fabulous meal together.


We all left a great evening with new friendships, new recipes and new experiences!
Many thanks to Kirsty Young for her photos.

Check out this 3-minute video that explains everything about these amazing lunch boxes

Catch ‘The Lunchbox’ movie free to watch on SBS On Demand.

Photo sources http://sonyclassics.com/thelunchbox/dates/ and 

Joy Indian Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

6 thoughts on “Unpacking the Indian Lunchbox with Cooking Circles Canberra and Joy Indian Restaurant

  1. That is an amazing system and reminds me that human power still has a place with so much automation, technology, waste and consumerism around us.
    Thank you, Michele, for sharing how it works.

    Like

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