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Tiffin is an Indian English word for a type of meal. It refers to a light breakfast or a light tea-time meal at about 3 p.m., consisting of typical tea-time foods.[1] In certain parts of India, it can also refer to the midday luncheon or, in some regions of the Indian subcontinent, a between-meal snack.[2] When used in place of the word "lunch", however, it does not necessarily mean a light meal.[3]


In the British Raj, tiffin was used to denote the British custom of afternoon tea that had been supplanted by the Indian practice of having a light meal at that hour.[4] It is derived from "tiffing", an English colloquial term meaning to take a little drink. By 1867 it had become naturalised among Anglo-Indians in northern British India to mean luncheon.[5]

Current usage[edit]

Two dabbawalas in Mumbai delivering meals packed in tiffin carriers

In South India and in Nepal, tiffin is generally a snack between meals: dosas, idlis, vadas etc.[6] In other parts of India, such as Mumbai, the word mostly refers to a packed lunch of some sort.[7] In Mumbai, it is often delivered to them by dabbawalas, sometimes known as tiffin wallahs, who use a complex system to get thousands of tiffin carriers to their destinations. In most of India, a school-going child's lunch box is fondly called a tiffin box.[8]

When used in place of the word "lunch", tiffin often consists of rice, lentils, curry, vegetables, chapatis or "spicy meats".[9] In addition, the lunch boxes are themselves called tiffin carriers, tiffin-boxes or just tiffins.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Purnachand, G V. "History of Traditional Telugu Food Culture: A new interpretation". Dr. G. V. Purnachand, B.A.M.S. Dr. G V Purnachand, B.A.M.S. Retrieved 28 July 2017.
  2. ^ OED staff 2013, "tiffin, n.".
  3. ^ Murray 2008, p. 88.
  4. ^ Quinion 2006, Tiffin.
  5. ^ OED staff 2013, "tiffin, n."cites H. Wedgwood (1862) "Tiffin, now naturalised among Anglo-Indians in the sense of luncheon, is the North country tiffing (properly sipping)". See also Wedgwood 1872, p. 682.
  6. ^ Hughes, Mookherjee & Delacy 2001, p. 25.
  7. ^ Harding 2002.
  8. ^ Thakker 2005.
  9. ^ Murray 2008, pp. 85–108.