Steel dabbas

Indian kitchens are usually loaded with stainless steel – cutlery, utensils, ladles and cookers.

As kids, most of us carried lunch to school in small round or rectangular steel boxes. In India, they are called ‘dabbas’ (singular ‘dabba’).


   Picture courtesy –

The dabbas usually had two compartments, one for the roti or rice, and the other for the vegetable.

My Dad and uncles had a bigger and more sophisticated version of the steel dabba, which was called the ‘tiffen carrier’. The carrier had three, four, five or six compartments, stacked one on top of the other, held together on top by a metal clip.  The ones my Dad usually carried had three layers – one each for rice, gravy and vegetable.


  Picture courtesy –

When we ordered food for family functions, the caterer usually supplied food in huge ‘carriers’ – those that had many layers! It was a joy to open these carriers and see what was inside each layer.


               Picture courtesy    

I have a four-compartment tiffen carrier at home now, which I use when we go out on picnics. It stands vertical, and hence occupies very little space.

Steel dabbas usually served us for many, many years. Except for a dulling in their silver sheen, they carried warm, lovingly-packed, home-cooked meals for us throughout our school days.

The dabbas carried special treats on our birthdays, and small notes from mom or dad sometimes.

There was this group of friends, who went to school with me, from Grade 1 through Grade 12. Over all those years, on every school day, all of us had lunch together. We would open our steel dabbas and share our food with each other. We knew which mom made the best rice dishes or rotis. By the time we reached high school, we were such good friends that we actually demanded certain dishes for lunch, from each other, and our loving moms usually obliged.

My mom’s specialty was her sambhar rice with potato fry, which my dabba lovingly carried for many years.

So many wonderful memories contained in a small steel dabba.


25 thoughts on “Steel dabbas”

  1. In America we had lunch boxes that were made of plastic and usually decorated with a favorite cartoon character and they came with a thermos for the drink. Lunch was usually peanut butter and jelly or something similar and easy that wouldn’t spoil for the hours it spent in a classroom before lunch. Maybe a little more aesthetically appealing for a child, but a lot less practical.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you Marissa. It is so interesting to know how simple things like lunch boxes and their contents could be so different in different parts of the world. Thank you for sharing. In India these days, many kids have shifted to the lock n lock plastic boxes 😆😆

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My father still carries his lunch in the three-compartment steel dabba. Though, both and brother and I had plastic tiffin boxes all the years we went to school (or that is what I remember 😛 )

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You know in mumbai we have famous chain called dabbawala that picks up your food from your house and leave it to the destined place ..and this company is a six sigma one ..and they have never failed in their delivery 🙂 I once met the CEO of this company while I was i college and he explained how the management works 🙂 And yes we do have some beautiful movies on dabbas 🙂 …lunchbox and stanely ka dabba 🙂 …As for me i never had the steel dabba at my time we use to have plastic ones with cartoon 😉 but yeah my father use to carry one 🙂 Once again a great post 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      1. We had a small Six Sigma service in our quarters… there a couple of ladies (mom and daughter) who used to pick up our lunches from homes and deliver them to us in the school. We used to get piping hot lunches… I guess that was the biggest perk studying in KVI. I later on went to St Joseph’s and to GAC, Ooty… never liked the food which was cold in the tiffin carrier, sometimes went hungry or sometimes had some pocket money to eat outside food… and some times ate the carrier food. 🙂 Nostalgia!!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Now…plastic is all the rage…! The steel ones don’t retain smell and are very easy to clean. But to a kid the aesthetic appeal also matters right? Can’t have cartoons on the steel dabbas 😉😉

      Liked by 1 person

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