Traditional ‘tiffin’ service delivers home-made Indian food across city
Shivani Dhamija walks out the door of her home in Clayton Park West and places a large grocery bag in the back seat of her car.
It’s a cloudy Monday morning and a light rain is coming down.
As she pulls her car out of the driveway, the smell of freshly cooked “aloodum,” or potato curry, and “chapatis,” an Indian bread, fills the inside of her vehicle.
The food isn’t for her, however. She has three stops to make and 10 customers who eagerly await their lunch.
Dhamija cooks Indian food from her own home and delivers it to people across Halifax: the only service of its kind in the city, she says.
It’s called a “tiffin” service, a type of meal delivery popular in India.
Meals cost as little as $7, and Dhamija doesn’t charge for delivery.
She started in November and says her service is popular among international students, especially Indians.
It’s for “people who don’t have wives at home,” she jokes.
Dhamija, who immigrated to Canada from West Bengal three years ago, spent a year in London, Ont., where she studied public relations and corporate communications before moving to Halifax.
Dhamija says she wanted to start the “tiffin” service because she wants to supply meals to people who don’t want to make their own food while in school or who find eating out at restaurants too expensive.
“For me, at least, I can’t eat Subway every day.”
She finds the food at Indian restaurants too oily and spicy, something she refrains from doing in her own “entirely homemade” dishes.
Through Facebook and word-of-mouth, Dhamija has got enough consistent business to know the faces of everyone she delivers to.
She posts on her Facebook page a day in advance to tell her customers what the meal of the day will be, giving her enough time to figure out the ingredients she’ll need.
On average, Dhamija receives about 15 orders a day.
Of the 10 orders placed for Monday, eight called in that morning.
Even with the help of her mother, Rani, Dhamija has turned away people in the past because there were too many requests.
Her first delivery on Monday was at CGI, an online tech consulting company.
Her first customer, Tejus Guriekar, orders from Dhamija about three to four times a week.
Originally from Toronto, Guriekar says “tiffin” is very common there but he hasn’t been able to find anyone else doing it here besides Dhamija.
“The main thing is convenience,” says Guriekar. “Service is quite fast.”
Dhamija also encourages customers to provide their own food containers in an effort to be environmentally friendly, something most of the regulars, including Guriekar, do.
After CGI, Dhamija drives to Dalhousie University where she meets with Vinidhra Vaitheeswaran, a law student, who decided to order lunch for her and seven classmates.
Also from Toronto, Vaitheeswaran hasn’t heard of any other “tiffin” services in Halifax. “I’ve been to maybe one or two Indian restaurants and they’re not great,” she says.
Dhamija offers less-common Indian dishes such as “kale chane,” a spicy chickpea dish; “saag paneer,” a spinach tofu; and “pav bhaji,” mashed mixed vegetables served with bread.
“Indian food is so vast,” says Dhamija. “I can make two weeks of different food.”
Once lunch is finished, Dhamija waits for supper orders, which can come in as late as 8 or 9 o’clock in the evening.
She even gets calls from parents living in Toronto, asking if she can cook for their children in Halifax.
“I feel like a mom,” she says.
In fact, Dhamija is a mother herself with a 16-month-old son named Kush.
Before heading home, Dhamija makes one more stop at CGI to give her husband, Abhishek, his lunch.
She can be found through her Facebook page, “Homemade tiffin service.”