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 – http://www.pinterest.com
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 – http://www.alibaba.com
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.
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.