The Portable Tiffin

A tiffin carrier or tiffin box is usually round, multi-tiered stainless steel container, the tiers of which conveniently clamp together. A handle on the top level provides for easy transport. Some tiffins come with insulated carrying bags.

What is tiffin?

Oxford Dictionaries (1) online defines tiffin (noun) as a snack, light meal, or the container used to carry it.

Tiffin with salad

Two-tiered tiffin carrier with salad

The separate sections of the tiffin carrier allow for the easy carrying of dry and wet foods (soup and salad, for example) or incompatible foods (a savory casserole and a sticky, sweet dessert) without having to juggle containers.

Tiffin containers remind me of the old round lard pail lunch boxes with air holes punched in the lids that were still in use in the ’50s before the advent of commercial metal or plastic lunch boxes (at least in my life), except that tiffins go one step beyond by isolating different foodstuffs completely from one another. A tiffin carrier is a perfect accessory for me, since almost daily I carry a homemade vegan lunch with me to my office. Sometimes I just take a jar or bottle of thick, rich, green or yellow smoothie, but often I want a more solid meal, and that’s when I pull out my tiffin container. Tiffins  come in unbreakable stainless steel (rustproof materials are important when you live next to the sea) and they allow me to avoid the use of plastics.

Tiffin containers are strong and resistant, handle hot and cold foods equally well,  and are easy to clean; besides, they look cool, in a retro kind of way!

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In India, particularly in Mumbai, an entire industry has grown up around the delivery of lunches to workers around the city, carried by Dabbawalas (2) on bicycles, by foot, by train, and by push-cart. It is an ingenious method of getting nutritious, home cooked food to where it’s needed and providing healthy, fast, and portable food to a busy population. Watch the video below to get an idea of what a day in the life of a Mumbai Dabbawala is like. There are even websites such as Spicebox! where you can order your custom tiffin delivery, with vegetarian and non-vegetarian options.


(1) Oxford Dictionaries, Oxford University Press, 2013.

(2) Wikipedia contributors, “Dabbawala,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed October 29, 2013).