The Dabbawala of Mumbai: 5000 men, 200,000 lunchboxes

Have you ever heard about the Dabawallas?

It’s a Hindi word that translates as “one who carries the box” and it’s a lunchbox delivery system in Mumbai.

It started about 125 years ago with 1 banker who wanted homemade food for lunch.

Today it has evolved into a system of more than 5000 men who deliver about 200,000 lunchboxes each day

These men, called dabbawallas, span out around the city each morning on bike and foot to individual homes where wives and mothers have been preparing a homemade lunch for her husband or son.

She cooks the rice and dhal and curry and packs in a lunchbox that is color-coded according to the man’s office.

Traditionally, the lunches were packed in tin cyclinders called Tiffin boxes but these days, people use a variety of lunchbox containers and the codes are numbers.


Anyway, the dabbawallas go to each home, sometimes climbing 4 or 5 flights of stairs in tenement with no elevators.

They collect these homemade lunches– and take them on bike to the local train station where the boxes are handed over to another dabawalla for their trip into the city.

In the city, all the lunchboxes arrive at a central marshaling spot at Churchgate station where they are reorganized into new groups according to their destination.

Then they’re loaded back onto bikes to be pedaled by the dabawallas to highrise office buildings around the city. They are taken up elevators, into offices, and placed on their owner’s desk.


Each lunchbox will be handled by as many as a dozen dabawallas in one morning. But it has finally arrived.   GREAT, right?

But THAT is only ½ the job.

After lunch, the whole process happens again, backwards, until the empty lunchboxes land back in their homes.


This happens every single day, with 200,000 boxes each day.  And amazingly, only 1 in every 6 million gets lost.


I was so fascinated by this system that when I was in Mumbai last October, I tagged along with the dabawallas one morning, to see the system for myself.

Do you like these kind of unique experiences with locals?

If so, head on over to Rare Finds Travel because travel that is sometimes rustic, often luxurious, but always unique…. that’s our specialty!


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