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Tiffin Times

The classic idli, sambar and vada.
Image courtesy: Creative Commons/Pratheepps

What’s for tiffin?


In the early 19th century the British who took their mealtimes seriously began ‘tiffing’ or to sip. The variation perhaps of the famous afternoon tea is the Indian tiffin which is a light meal between main meals like lunch or dinner. Though it was a late afternoon or a brunch option, in modern times tiffin is eaten both in the morning and afternoon (and in some cases, as supper). It could include a sweet, a heavy snack washed down with a tumbler of piping coffee.

While the menu continues to vary according to regions in India, the enduring symbol of tiffin can be found among the dabbawalahs of Mumbai and their three or four tiered tiffin carriers used to serve lunches to offices across the far flung areas of the city.

Here are our favourite tiffin combos while in south India:

Madurai, Thanjavur, Tiruchi: Idli, dosai.

Kumbakonam: Idli and degree coffee.

Chettinadu (Karaikudi, Sivaganga): Idiappam with coconut milk or veg or non-veg kurma; kuzhi appam and coconut chutney.

Chennai: Venn pongal and vadai; adai aviyal; lemon sevai.

Udipi, Bengaluru: Masala dosa, upma, akki roti (spicy rice pancake) and coffee.

Andhra Pradesh: Pesaratu and chutney; spicy meats with vada; Hyderabadi Payaki Nihari (goat trotters eaten with dosa/roti/appam at breakfast).

Kerala: Puttu (steamed rice cake) with black chickpea gravy or fish gravy; palada (egg pancake); the Malabar Jewish palappam.


Sudha G Tilak has lived and worked in Chennai as a journalist but is currently based in Delhi and is a consultant editor for Lonely Planet.