The life of an Indian dabbawalla

It’s a fair bet that fans of Indian food are unlikely to be a stranger to their local Indian delivery service. For many families across the UK, the promise of that Friday or Sunday night takeaway is enough to get them through the difficulties of the working week. The convenience of ordering your favourite Indian meal over the phone or with just a few clicks of the mouse online might seem like a Westernised concept, but the dabbawalla has been providing a time-honoured delivery service in Indian for more than a century.

What is a dabbawalla?

The dabbawalla is a man (or the occasional woman) who delivers wholesome Indian meals for a living – typically for office workers who struggle to find a decent meal in the city on a limited lunch break. It is said that the first dabbwallas originated in the famous Indian city of Mumbai.

The Maharashtrian capital is known for its bustling streets and hectic city lifestyle. However, the fast-pace of life in Mumbai back in the late 19th century meant that those who were working in the city simply couldn’t find time to source a decent meal for lunch and their favourite foods took too long to prepare before their morning commute.

Fortunately, a bright spark named MahadeoHavajiBachchetook note of this fact and flexed his entrepreneurial skills to amass a group of 100 young men who would become the first dabbawallas of the city.

Mahadeo’s plan was simple – to feed the time-strapped workers of Mumbai with a delicious, traditional lunch of home-cooked rice and dal or a fluffy chapatti and curry. The meals were prepared at home and perfectly packaged for his army of dabbwallasto collect on their bicycles and pedal furiously to the workplace. At the end of the day, the empty dabbas were picked up by the cyclists and delivered back to the home addresses.

The modern dallawabba

In the present day, the dallwabbas of Mumbai have proved that their line of work is recession-proof – people are willing to spend a few extra pennies to enjoy their favourite home-cooked lunch. The dabbawallas have even prevailed despite the numerous eateries and fast-food establishments that have set up shop in Mumbai to woo the lunchtime masses.

The popularity of the dabbwallas could well be due to how seriously they take their work. Come rain or shine, (including the thundering storms of the Indian monsoon) the hungry office workers of the city can count on the fact that they will receive their midday meal. The statistics are pretty impressive too – it is said that only one in every 8,000 dabbawalla deliveries ends up in the wrong location.

Despite the hard work of the dabbawallas, we believe that their enduring success is very likely to come down to the delicious and authentic meals that can only be prepared at home. Indian families pass their favourite recipes down through the generations, and it’s hardly surprising that a number of Mumbai’s workers might not want to forego their home-cooked delights for a fast-food option.

If you too would like to sample the very best of traditional Indian cuisine, book yourself a table at one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants – you’ll soon see what all the fuss is about.

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