India marches on its stomach

India has always come up with innovative solutions when it comes to the question of what to eat, when out on work.

Take the dal baati churma combination to carry with them, that itinerant traders and hunters of Rajasthan hit upon, while on the roads in the medieval ages. Or the cooks in the armies of the nizams and nawabs who served a simpler version of the royal dish of biryani, made with left-over meat, spices and rice, for armies on the move.

Then there is the cooling gruel of ragi and water that would be consumed by the farmers of Tamil Nadu while tilling the fields in the blazing summer sun.

Or the thepla, achar, sev and namkeen combination that you would see Gujaratis take out on long distance train journeys. Food that fuelled them when they travelled across the world in search of business, undeterred by limits put by dietary restrictions.

The indigenous solutions were many.

At the turn of the twentieth century one saw specific city areas emerge as central business districts in the main metros of India. In places such as Fort in Mumbai, Dalhousie of Kolkata or Connaught Place of New Delhi, came up a slew of eateries which offered moderately priced regional Indian food. The fast turnover and the use of fresh, local produce, ensured a supply of good quality food which fed the worker bees who were helping set up modern India.

The working style of urban India has undergone a dramatic change in the last few years. What worked before does not work anymore when it comes to meeting the food needs of those who go out to work every-day.

There is no single CBD in our cities now. Work spaces have spread across. Gleaming new buildings have come up in the midst of a barren, urban landscape. Often with no eco-system around to offer wholesome eating options to those who work here. With the rise of globalisation, working hours have become infinite. This means that people would be at work at odd hours of the day, where no eateries are open. High rents and comparatively low traffic compared to that in the CBDs of yore, mean that there are fewer passionate, independent operators who are willing to open restaurants that serve nutritious food that satisfies the soul and the wallet in these new age new office areas. Add to this, the phenomena of urban migration and disintegration of the joint family system, and you have a work force with limited access to home food, and with no inclination to make their own either thanks to low office hours and travel times.

All of this makes me believe that the issue of what to eat, while out at work is an issue, that corporate India needs to address at on an urgent basis.

One solution would be for the corporates and the government to help set up multiple food courts and hawker centres, as they have in Singapore, across the emerging commercial districts and enabling independent operators, especially women, to set up places to sell the equivalent of home cooked food. The office and office building canteens need to provide meal options that go beyond packaged food, carb and preservative heavy snacks, to better meal options. This can of course happen only when senior corporates are awakened to the fact that a workforce that eats well is a happy workforce and is key to a healthy corporate balance sheet too.

However, one cannot wait passively for things change. It would be worthwhile for those who go out to work every day to look at creating meal options to take which are based on local produce and grains, which are nutritious, travel well from home to work, and are tasty too.

If you have any tricks up your sleeves on what makes for a good meal option to take to work, then please write in at www.timeskitchentales.com with your suggestions and recipes and any other tips that you might have.

Iconic places to eat at in the classic CBDs of India. What to order there

  • Mumbai: Bun maska and chai with some khari biscuits on the side at Yazdani Bakery at Fort
  • Kolkata: Chicken stew and machher deemer bora (fish roe pakora) with toast pauruti at Chitto Da’s at Dacres Lane
  • New Delhi: Saag meat, dahi meat, kaleji keema at Kake Da Hotelx with roti, Connaught Place
  • Chennai: Vanjiram (kingfish) fry, kalakki (a sort of runny omelette) and banana leaf fish curry meals, Nair Mess, Chepauk
  • Bengaluru: Veg omelette, mutton omelette, chicken sandwich, veg cutlet, chicken liver toast, Koshy’s MG Road

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