The word Tiffin means either a light meal or a lunch. This word was originated in British India, but today it has found its place primarily in Indian English. It is derived from an English slang “tiffing” which means “to take a little sip”.
Ideally, a tiffin box is a multitier metal container that is unlocked by un-hooking a small catch on either sides of the handle. It has been around for decades but now they have been modified into enamel versions made by European companies. Although the novelty might be long gone, but they are still extremely popular amongst working women, bachelors, busy couples, working mothers.
The tiffin carriers are extremely practical for Indian food- since most of it is an assortment of rice, curries, dals (lentils), Chapathis (flat breads), vegetables and spicy meats; thus the multi-tier comes into play. But India is not the only country that celebrates tiffin carrier meals. They were also used in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia during the 1950s-60s. Tiffin meals, in Singapore, are also known as Tingkat delivery meals, lunch delivery or dinner delivery, home delivered food or Bao Fu Sik (包伙食).
The tiffin carriers or Tingkat in Singapore also used to be in multiple tiers but they were made in beautiful enamel, some even with ornate floral motifs. These carriers were used decades ago – The birthday noodles were put into the various tiers of the tingkat and distributed amongst friends and family so it could be consumed during the celebrations. Nasi kunyit and chicken curry were distributed by proud grandparents in this tingkat carrier to announce the arrival of a new born. Again the fact that a combination of food can be stored in these compartments and tiers made them very popular in Singapore as well.
But a need was felt to “improvise” on these tingkat carriers in the name of modernization. Polystyrene containers and plastic boxes have now taken the place of these tingkat carriers. We keep talking about going green- but we forget that these new inventions in home delivery boxes are harmful to the environment. We should go back to using the good old Stainless-Steel tingkat or disposable microwave container because they do a great job of keeping the food warm and separate and are also 100% recyclable so less harmful to the environment.