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December 19th, 2010

In anticipation of the Maharaja exhibition, the cafe AGO team was busy developing new menu items we thought our visitors would enjoy. One of the ideas was to sell boxed lunches to make decisions easy and convenient for families.

I thought this was a great idea and was talking about it with one of my friends, who said it reminded her of ‘tiffins’, which were popular in India. I decided to risk appearing completely unworldly and asked what the heck she was talking about. I was thoroughly intrigued when she informed me that many Indians have home-cooked lunches delivered to them at work every day!

Indian lunch box known as a Dabba

Clearly this was something that needed to be researched for further clarification, so off to my computer I went. Apparently, it is common in Mumbai and Karachi for office workers to have their lunches delivered by a dabbawala. The dabbawala collects the home-cooked lunch from the person’s home (where it was prepared), then delivers it to the place of work.

Having experienced managing food services, I was trying to wrap my head around how they could possibly pick up these lunches and deliver them all in a timely fashion, considering how many people in India commute to work by train. I was shocked to learn that the Mumbai dabbawalas deliver 200,000 tiffins every day, in less than 3 hours. I was even more astonished to learn that Forbes Magazine gave the Mumbai dabbawalas a six sigma business rating (meaning they make less than 3 mistakes for every million transactions)!

Although the cafe AGO staff will be using a computer to ring in your order, and serving meals on-site, the boxed lunches in the cafe have the same convenience and wholesomeness you would expect if one of your loved ones had prepared it for you. So, when you visit the gallery this month, why not try a tiffin?

Cheryl Wallace, Cafe Manager, Art Gallery of Ontario