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#14 The Evolution of Railway Catering and Onboard Services (Indian Railways Series)

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Photo: Hindustan Times 

Food on the Move, The Evolution of Train Dining in India

From hearty meals on long journeys to a quick snack on a short trip, food has always been an essential part of the rail experience. Onboard catering and dining services on Indian trains have come a long way since the first railway catering service started in the 1920s. 

Early Days

In the 19th century, passengers had to carry their own food as trains had no pantry cars or kitchens. Some longer trains halted for hot cooked meals at select stations. 

Are you aware that the first dining car providing meals onboard appeared in 1925 on the GIP Railways between Bombay and Peshawar? This introduced the concept of train catering.

You’ll be shocked to know early dining cars were like luxury restaurants with attentive waiters and fine crockery. The menu included European dishes like roast chicken, cutlets, soup, and desserts.

Self-service cafeterias were added in 1930 for affordable food. These evolutions made long train journeys more comfortable.

Food for the Masses

After Independence, catering received a boost under the first Minister for Railways, Lal Bahadur Shastri. He started the Janata Khana service in 1951, providing affordable vegetarian meals for all classes. 

Not only that, the menu was expanded to include regional dishes like idlis, parathas, biryanis, rajma-chawal, and sambhar-vada. This made train food more accessible and reflective of India’s diversity.

By the 1990s, most long-distance trains had pantry cars with kitchens. Onboard dining had become an expected amenity. 

Modern Amenities 

Today, Indian Railways has over 400 kitchens and 60,000 staff providing meals for millions daily. Catering facilities and menus have expanded greatly. 

Premium trains like Rajdhanis and Shatabdis offer complimentary gourmet meals with global and local delicacies. There are refrigerated food vans and equipment for cooking, and packaging meals hygienically. 

With apps like e-catering, food can be ordered to your seat. Some trains, like the Maharaja Express, even have onboard chefs.

There’s still room for improving quality and service. But train catering has come a long way in making journeys more comfortable through the years. From simple meals to fine dining, food remains integral to the rail experience.

Source-

  • Ministry of Railways, Government of India. (2017). Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation. Press Information Bureau. 
  • Kurup, N. P. (2003). Onboard Hospitality: Catering Services in Indian Railways. In Indian Railways: On the Fast Track. New Delhi: Academy of Business Studies.
  • NDTV Food. (2016). All About Railway Catering. NDTV. 
  • Venkatraman, R. (2000). The history of railway catering service. Southern Railways Publication.
  • Jagran Josh. (2019). Facts about Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC). Jagran Josh. 
  • Patrika News. (2018). रेल यात्रियों का खाना, पहले रेस्तरां जैसी थी कार, अब बोरियों में आता है खाना. Patrika News. 

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