KARACHI: It is not easy finding cheap or reasonably-priced meals that are also delectable when working here. And who’s got the time to head back home for a quick lunch and then rush back to work?
That’s when the fast life comes back to bite and that too in the growling stomach. But help is at hand when delightful home-cooked meals are brought to you in sparkling stainless steel tiffins or lunch boxes. “They also deliver in plastic bag packets,” says Moazzam Majeed, a shop owner at Zainab Market in Saddar. The lunch boxes may be delivered by men on bikes but the real person behind the food is almost always a woman in a home kitchen.
“Yes, my wife and sister do the cooking at home and I bring it all here,” says Jamil Khan, a busy man with a row of small shining tiffins hanging from each of his bicycle handles outside Jama Cloth Market. “We charge Rs80 per tiffin,” he says. “There is daal (pulses), sabzi (vegetables) and machli (fish), too, on some special days,” he adds.
The menu for today’s lunch box in Kulsoom Ali’s kitchen is biryani, zarda (sweet rice), raita (mint sauce) and salad. The moment you step into the gates of the apartment building in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, there is no need to ask for directions to her home. The aroma from her kitchen leads the way.
Inside, the lady is busy filling up one tiffin portion after the other, biryani in one, zarda in another and packets of raita and salad in the third. She makes sure each portion has one meat piece and one piece of potato. “If it is meatballs, I will put one in each and suppose the meatballs are small in size that day, I’ll put in two each,” she explains.
“The small lunch boxes are meant for one person. I also pack tiffins for four and six people. But my charge for one person is Rs125 so for four it is Rs500 and so on,” she says. “But two people can easily share one lunch box as our portions are quite generous,” she adds.
“Look, groceries are so expensive these days and we use the best rice, flour, meat, vegetables, oil, etc. There is no compromise there. We usually have customers who pay us on a monthly basis to deliver the lunch to them every day. We have two lunch boxes or tiffins for each person so when delivering one we can pick up the empty one from the previous day,” Kulsoom says.
“You can’t really expect men to return washed and clean tiffins, which is fine as we would have washed them again ourselves anyway. We have also written the names of our customers on paper tape on the tiffin handles just so there is no mix-up as some prefer spicy food while others don’t,” she says. “On days other than when we have biryani, the menu for each meal must have some curry, some rice, roti and a sweet dish such as kheer, halwa, shahi tukra, etc.” The food is delivered by Kulsoom’s husband while her daughter-in-law helps her in the kitchen. “We make sure everything is ready by 12.30pm so the food gets delivered on time.”
About how she got into this line of work, Kulsoom remembers with a smile. “I have always enjoyed my cooking. My mother taught me how to cook when I was a little girl. Then I also experimented with new recipes I read in books and magazines. My husband read about the dabbawallas of Mumbai in some old magazine some four years ago and discussed the idea with me. We were facing financial difficulties at the time and decided to go into this business,” she shares.
“I still remember my first customer. He liked the meals so much that he started telling everyone. That’s when others in his office building started ordering from us and one thing led to another.” Internews