Friday, March 02, 2007


Every day I get one of these bad boys delivered to my office for lunch. Inside, generally, is 4 rotis, about a cup of boiled white rice, a bag of (yellow, usually) dal, which is, on occasion, thick and delicious dal makhani, and some sort of aloo dish (aloo ghobi, aloo mutter, etc), and a random treat which I'm gonna call the "wild card". The wild card is sometimes a small samosa, but sometimes cute -- on Valentines day it was a heart-shaped potato patty.

The word "dabba" just means "can," but the guy who delivers the food is called the "dabbawala," the "Can Man." I heard somewhere that 4,000,000 people in Bombay get dhaba for lunch every day. Most of the women who cook the food in the dabba are Gujarati housewives, who make the lunch, wrap it up, and give it to the first dhaba wala in line, who generally transports it, in bicycle rickshaw, to the train station. Another dabba wala picks it up there, and accompanies the load of dabbas to the destination train station (each dabbawala serves a certain, manageable area of the city). At that station, another dabbawala picks it up and bicycles it to the various offices where it goes.

Keep in mind that most of the people involved in the distribution chain are illiterate and depend on dots, dashes, and other icons for the labels on the dabbas. Customers generally cancel their dabba on a day when they're having a business lunch, or if they're out of town for a few days, and they call the night before. With all these changes, and all the various last-minute adjustments, the dabbawalas achieve "Six-Sigma" accuracy, meaning that their service is provided with a .001% rate of error. Major Indian companies come to them for advice and training on staff management. My own dabba has never disappointed.


Anonymous vadakkan said...

thats truly amazing. Now only if they could run the Government of India.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Gaurav said...

nice shot!

9:11 PM  
Blogger DXBluey said...


A reasonable photograph, however fantastic copy!

I have heard of this system and just how efficient it is. It is urban planning mixed with service and delivery fufilment of the highest order.

Six sigma you say...? Scary corporate marketing religion! Was it Motorola that invented it... you'll be balancing your score card next...

Love the food references. Dal Makhani is just about my favourite food ever. Any aloo dish is great for me. A mint paratha or chapati? Usually have Erachi curry atmy local pace, though some King Fish masala would be fine too...

Thanks - and best of course to Slaint!


12:36 AM  
Blogger slaint said...

robbie is a writer - can you tell?!

8:35 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

I've enjoyed this blog for quite some time now. The only place I've seen the dabbas before was in the movie "American Desi" The lady next to me commented that she wanted to get some of those. My wife was wondering what happens to the used cans. Do the dabbawallas pick up the used ones during the next delivery?

4:52 AM  
Blogger slaint said...

yes they pick up the empty dhabba the next day when they deliver your fresh one.

it really is an amazing system. and provides cheap excellent food! This dhabba service that robbie is talking about is approximately 30 rupees per meal (less than 1 dollar).

7:39 AM  

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