Since getting into Tamil Nadu a few days ago, and continuing now we’re in Kerala, we’ve been seeing a number of café/restaurant places saying things like “Tiffin served here” – which gave rise to the question – what exactly is tiffin?

Our guide is emphatic that it means breakfast. However this doesn’t chime with our own feelings about how we’ve heard it used – to mean afternoon refreshment of some kind, either at teatime or something more alcoholic.

Annabel asked our host at the homestay in Palakkad, a very educated gentleman who went to the best school in Tamil Nadu and then to Berkeley University in San Francisco; and he said it can mean any snack.

There is also an object called a tiffin, which is a cylindrical tin canteen used by workers in Northern Indian cities to take their lunch to work. And I think I have heard of people in Mumbai who will collect empty tiffins from office workers in the morning and return them, filled, in time for lunch.

Wikipedia says the word means “Lunch or any light meal,” and continues: “It originated in British India, and is today found primarily in Indian English. The word originated when Indian custom superseded the British practice of an afternoon dinner, leading to a new word for the afternoon meal. It is derived from the obsolete English slang tiffing, for “taking a little drink or sip”. So maybe we’re all right. Read entire entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiffin

Nonetheless I reckon it could make an interesting Radio 4 programme: “In search of Tiffin”. Bring on (Sir) Mark Tulley!

Then there’s Toddy

384 Responses to “Tiffin”

  • rowan:

    We have got an Indian take away place up the road called “Tiffin tin “!!
    I thought colonials meant they were starting on the booze —

    On something completely different – it’s poss we have a friend’s mum funeral next week. IF on the Friday, what is the best way to get in touch with you about keys to house etc. I wasn’t sure if you checking both, one email, mobiles – or this ???