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#9 Railway Lunchbox Culture of Mumbai, aka Dabbawalas (Indian Railway Series)


Featured Photo Source: Atlas Obscure 

Imagine having fresh, home-cooked meals delivered hot and on time every day to your workplace, even if it’s far away in the city! Sounds impossible, right? 

Well, thanks to Mumbai’s fantastic lunchbox delivery system run by the dabbawalas, lakhs of officegoers relish piping hot meals from home daily. Let’s explore this unique culture that has nourished generations of travelers.

5,000 Dabbawalas, 200,000 Lunchboxes  

Do you know over 5,000 dabbawalas carry about 2,00,000 lunchboxes from Mumbai homes to offices every day? This 125-year-old system runs with just barefoot dabbawalas, bicycles, wooden carts, and local trains – no tech.

You will be amazed to learn their supply chain spans 60 km across the Mumbai region and they make fewer than 1 mistake in every 6 million deliveries. Such precision without GPS is incredible. 

Not only that, the lunchboxes are sorted and delivered within just hours using color codes and abbreviations. Truly a logistical marvel.

From Home Kitchens to Office Desks

Every morning, dabbawalas start picking up dabbas or lunchboxes, from hundreds of city apartments. Each dabba carries food lovingly cooked in home kitchens. 

The dabbas travel by bicycle and suburban train to a hub sorting station near the office area. Here, they are sorted by destination and routed to the right office buildings. So Mumbai’s busy workers get to relish fresh Ghar ka khana every afternoon.

You will love hearing the delighted exclamations when the dabba arrives right on the dot. Hot parathas from a Chennai home reach an engineer working in Andheri or Malad. Every family’s signature dal might end up at BKC.

Beyond Parcels, a Human Connection

But it’s not just about delivering parcels. The dabbawalas embody trust and community. Many are uneducated but work hard to support families in villages.

For office workers who have moved to Mumbai from different states, the lunchbox is a lifeline. It brings emotional nourishment and connection along with the yummy food.

The dabbawalas also provide meals for the poor under their “Share My Dabba” initiative. This unique culture builds bonds across class and geography in an impersonal mega-city. 

So the modest dabbawala keeps Mumbaikars well-fed and well-linked. He transports not just dabbas but also love from home to work. Truly the lifeline of Mumbai.


  • Chithe, S. Always on Time. Penguin Books India, 2022
  • Nandi, R. Mumbai Lunchbox. HarperCollins India, 2015
  • Shukla, A. Dabbawalas of Mumbai. Jaico Publishing House, 2010
  • Mathew, M. Tiffin: 500 Authentic Recipes Celebrating India’s Regional Cuisine. Hachette India, 2019

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