Another stop on the tourist must see list in Mumbai is Churchgate Station at around 11.30am when you will be able to jostle with the other tourists while the Dabbawala or Tiffin Wallahs go about their daily routine.  The Dabbawala’s are men who conduct an elaborate lunch delivery service.  Each day the Dabbawala collects a freshly prepared, and oftentimes hot lunch, from the homes of clients in and around the outskirts of Mumbai. He (as they are all men)  transports the lunch mainly via train and then usually bicycle or cart to the workers office and will return the empty containers back to the customers home that same afternoon ready to repeat the process the very next day.
     lunchbox men


    On the day that we visited we were running a little late so we caught the backend of the process but it was still fascinating to witness the organisation that went into this delivery system. Many of the Dabbawala’s are illiterate and yet they have a reportedly near perfect record in getting the lunchbox from the home to the worker to eat and then returned back to the same home. Somewhat amazingly the system is rarely interrupted even in monsoon season.


    Here I should probably dispel a common myth – they have not been awarded the Six Sigma by Forbes. This accolade seems to have become part of the folklore that surrounds this group and while they are incredibly accurate, sadly there is no Six Sigma certification.


    The lunchbox men are quite internationally famous and reportedly Prince Charles was so taken with their organisation when he visited that he invited a few to his wedding in 2005. I also loved the fact that even though this immensely manual process relies on the skill and memory of the individual Dabbawala  modern technology is gradually creeping into the process and you can now text them with additional instructions!

    Lunchbox men
    Monthly pay is around 8,000 Rupees (80 GBP, 152 USD). There are approximately 5,000 Dabbawala who move about 200,000 lunch boxes everyday. Cost to the customer is unbelievably a paltry 150 Rupees a month (1.50 GBP, 2.54 USD). In 2007 the New York Times reported that this 125 year old industry was growing by 5-10% each year. I think all of the above statistics are simply amazing.


    While we stood watching the process it became increasingly fascinating. The lunch boxes came in all shapes and sizes and apparently have an elaborate coding systems on them to explain their route. Once they are collected from the home and transported to the train station they are put into groupings on the ground and then a cart is brought over and each group is put on the cart (in a particular order to ensure correct delivery) and then the men literally run down the street to begin their deliveries. All the men wear a distinctive white Kurta and a white Topi or Ghandi hat.


    I find it very interesting that in a modern city with every fast food on offer, western and Indian, so many people would still prefer to have a home cooked meal delivered to them daily. Next time you tuck into that sad looking sandwich that you brought from home think about a lovingly made fresh and hot hand delivered service that you could be having if you worked in Mumbai!

    Happy eating my friends 🙂

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