“Tiffin” means different things to different people. The term originated during the days of the British Raj, and was used to refer to afternoon tea, to push out the traditional Indian light meal typically eaten at a similar time of the day. The word was adopted into Indian culture, and depending on which part of India you are in, can mean the lunchtime meal, an afternoon snack, or a sweet treat eaten midday. Tiffin carriers are used throughout Southeast Asia as a way for office workers to eat home-cooked, or even restaurant-delivery meals, though they have different names in different regions.
As the “zero-waste” movement catches on in North America, people are looking to the tiffin carrier as a convenient way to bring their own lunches, to cut back on the unnecessary waste associated with take out food.
Traditionally, the bottom layer of the carrier contains the carbohydrate of the meal, which is often bread, naan or rice. The next layer would contain a salad or pickle, and the third the protein-rich bulk of the meal, such as curry, to be eaten with the rice or bread.
The main advantage of the Tiffin style carriers are keeping the foods separate, in a structured container, to prevent your lunch from getting soggy or squashed before you can eat it. They come in 2, 3 or 4 layer styles, typically made with stainless steel.
Here are 5 ideas to help you make the most of your Tiffin Carrier for some amazing packed lunches!
- If you enjoy Indian food, there are a million or more ideas for real Indian tiffin, available online, in English. The lunchtime suggestions are often much lighter than the typical fare at an Indian Restaurant in North America, and will let you explore the culture without spending thousands of dollars on a plane trip.
- Use up your leftovers. Put bread or rice in the bottom layer, and fill another with leftover stew, chili or soup. Pop a salad in the third layer, and you have a complete meal ready to go. The stainless steel can’t be reheated in the microwave, but there are insulated options that should get your meal to lunchtime still hot.
- Have breakfast for lunch. Put quick-cook oats, dried fruit and a sprinkle of cinnamon in one layer. Bring your yogurt or kefir in another, and a banana in the third. Add boiling water at lunch time, and let sit for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the yogurt, slice the banana on top, and you have a warm, filling, tasty and delicious meal ready to go.
- Bring “Taco Tuesdays” to work. Prepare your favourite Mexican-style filling, like taco-seasoned beef, or strips of chicken and peppers for fajitas. Put the tortillas in a separate layer, and use condiment containers or silicone muffin cups to fill the third layer with salsa, guacamole and sour cream, or shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes. When it’s time for lunch, put it all together for a some-assembly-required treat.
- Use the separate containers for different parts of your day. Pack a mid-morning snack, like a muffin or some fruit slices and peanut butter in the first layer. Put your sandwich in the middle, and pack a 3pm-hunger-buster, like some nuts and dried fruit, to help you last until home-time.
Whatever you pack in your tiffin carrier, it will taste better knowing you’re saving yourself money, helping out the environment, and probably eating healthier, too, by bringing your own lunch.