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Dubbawhat?


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Eat your heart out, Domino's

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Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Thanks for the kind words Simon and BBhasin.

Having not been raised in India, I am FASCINATED by the culture and the environment.

Bbhasin, I could not get this guy to stand still for me to look in any boxes, he was ALWAYS in a rush so he would not be late.

One point, I have to say I was quite amazed by how content he was. Making just enough to feed his family, yet always with a smile on his face, never a complaint. I asked him about that, and he quoted from an old Indian movie, "Jisne paida kiya duniya me wo hee palega "-- THe One who has brought me into this world, He will take care of me. I guess we can all learn from that!

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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Dubbawalas have been in Bombay for quite sometime. What I find interesting is how two London entrepreneurs harnessed the idea and applied it to the western culture. They created a company Tiffinbites, which I imagine is characterized as fast food. They offer a tremendous variety a traditional indian lunch dishes to the lunch crowd in tiffins.

What do you think of their idea? Good? Bad?

Tiffinbites

Rks

Edited by rks (log)
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Could you clarify something for me, Monica? Do they pick up lunches at each individual's home and then bring it to that specific person? Or is there a central place that makes a volume of lunches and they go to individuals according to their dietary needs?

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Could you clarify something for me, Monica? Do they pick up lunches at each individual's home and then bring it to that specific person? Or is there a central place that makes a volume of lunches and they go to individuals according to their dietary needs?

Rachel, they go to each house and return the box to each house. It is a scene to observe. In the building where I met this guy, he would go knock on the doors and the lady of the house would be at the door with the box, repeating instructions like -- make sure it stays warm, get there soon, and be back on time! Seemed funny to me, they said the same things each day and he nodded as if it were the first time he was hearing it!

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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It is very simple - You cook the meals by say 10:30 AM (Which was cooked for my brother when we lived in Mumbai and he was working in Worli) and put it in a tiffin carrier. There are standard containers in which you then put your tiffin carrier, and put it outside your door (if it is an apartment complex), or give it to the guard (if there is a security gate) - The guys come in bicycles and pick it up. They are then transported to the nearest train station - Western or Central ralway lines. There is one specal carriage reserved for dabbawalas. The boxes are then loaded and unloaded at each station - The time to load and unload is nine to fifteen seconds flat (that's the maxium amount the train stops at a station).

The timing by when you have to have the dabba (box) ready depends on how far you are from the Churchgate or VT a.k.a Victoria Terminus (now Chattrapati Shivaji) station.

The boxes are then taken to office buildings where they are left outside the reception. At lunch time, one goes out, picks one's box. Once you have finished your meal, drop the dabba (box) off outside the reception - and the boxes journey back home begins the same way.

The key to this efficiency lies in the urban geography of Mumbai (Bombay) and the super efficiency of their local-train systems.

The city is essentially linear - and two major electric local train systems (Western and Central ) run in parallel except for connecting at one station -- Dadar. As these people unload the racks fille with boxes, they sort and exchange the boxes from one rack to another in a super efficient way.

The color coding and symbols are a work as elegant as a lisp-code :smile:

Here is the snippet from a story done by Forbes ?

Around 5000 tiffinwallas deliver 1,75,000 lunches everyday and take the empty tiffin back. They make one mistake in 2 months. This means there is one error in every 16 million transactions or (8 million deliveries of lunches).

This is thus a 6 sigma performance (a term used in quality assurance if the percentage of correctness is 99.999999 (6 nines) or more) - the performance which has made companies like Motorola world famous for their quality. The tiffinwallas make Rs.3250 per month of which Rs.10 goes to theirassociation

.......

Keep in mind, Sigma5 is a very desirable goal in my world - The COs of AT&T and Verizons of the world try for that goal.

Hope this helps.

anil

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How does the billing work?

Are the workers independent, or are they part of a larger company?

It is a Co-operative, or call it a consortium of independent workers. - You pay the dabbawala, or another backup partner.

anil

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But why wouldn't the workers simply bring home their own tiffin box..thereby cutting the job in half and perhaps reducing the payment to the bicyclist..not that it would be a positive for the wallas, but it just seems more logical.

Edited by Kim WB (log)
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When I moved to Bombay from New Delhi to go to art school, after living months with my local guardians, I decided to give a try to the students hostel. I stayed a month. And that month, my class mates had organised for their favorite dabba wala to bring me one as well.

They are amazing in how every subtlety of each order is taken in to account. I had asked for vegetarian. And also no cabbage or eggplant. No rice for me. Only breads made with mutli grains. They did all of this.

Monica, thanks for this wonderful article.

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But why wouldn't the workers simply bring home their own tiffin box.......

You have to see what the experience of traveling during peak hours in Mumbai is like. It is bad enough that you are carrying a briefcase and an umbrella most months .....

One is nearly sandwiched in same manner as peak hours in Tokyo.

anil

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But why wouldn't the workers simply bring home their own tiffin box.......

You have to see what the experience of traveling during peak hours in Mumbai is like. It is bad enough that you are carrying a briefcase and an umbrella most months .....

One is nearly sandwiched in same manner as peak hours in Tokyo.

mm, guess I didn't think of that...Monica, thanks for an intriguing article...I'm having a hard time trying to picture it all, it sounds like an amazing thing to witness first hand!

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Kim, Indians expect a very different lunch at work then what we expect here in the west.

The Dubba/Dabba comes with dishes prepared exactly home style. Fresh, with rice or chappatis (flatbreads) made as one would in a home, and with each dish and lentil or bean preparation being just the same way as one would expect in a home. There are plenty of restaurants bursting with people at lunch time, but those that want to have food that does not compromise their home style standards, would rather get Dabbas. We also do not eat leftover foods with much gusto in India. To prepare the kind of lunch these people provide, home chefs would have to be up at 5AM preparing the lunches for different family members.

I am not sure that is a viable option for most.

Dubbas are a commercial concept, with a very familial feeling. The food has no fuss and much charm and taste. It is food at its most simple and true form. It comes to your office table with little if any frills at all.

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