Health in a box

Anamika Butalia        Print Edition: March 4, 2012

At the office, the package arrives right on time. It's smartly packed and holds a surprise. There's no telling what may be in it. For the past ten weeks, there has been no repetition of its contents. This afternoon, it holds a Moroccan meal. This one consists of organic brown rice, Moroccan spiced lentils and veggies cooked in the herb paste charmoula. For dessert, there's a sugar-free granola bar. Each day, this meal box carries different dishes and elements from multiple cuisines. Repetitions rarely occur, perhaps once in three months.

The mind behind this meal is a certified macrobiotic food nutritionist, chef and instructor. Shonali Sabherwal has been making lifestyle and dietary recommendations and supplying meals for more than four years in Mumbai. It all started, she says, with her attempt to help her father fight cancer. "I chanced upon the macrobiotic philosophy and travelled to the USA to be able to help my father," says Sabherwal about her venture, Soul Food.

Mumbai's new dabbawalas cater to all tastes
Whether it's a whole wheat sandwich or just a grease free serving of flavourful Indian food, Mumbai's new dabbawalas cater to all tastes
Vegan and macrobiotic meals are extremely rare to find. Sabherwal claims she is the only caterer in Mumbai who provides such meals. Her offerings read like a dieter's dream menu. They are all gluten-free and contain no dairy, no sugar, no artificial sweeteners, no yeast, no processed or preserved foods and no genetically modified ingredients. In fact, Sabherwal says her meals are 85 per cent organic and diabetic friendly. "Even the ingredients and cooking styles provide digestive enzymes and restore pH balance of blood," she says. Choice and quality comes at a price. She is the most expensive 'dabbawala' in the city with each meal costing as much as Rs 300.

Dabba Diary

SHONALI SABHERWAL'S MACROBIOTIC MEALS
Price Rs 300 per meal
Numbers 40 to 50 per day (as a niche product, it attracts those with genuine health concerns)
USP Multi-cuisine and no menu repetitions for up to three months.
Contact www.souldfoodshonali.com

CUSTOMISED TIFFIN SERVICES
Price Up to Rs 200 per meal
Numbers 200 per day
USP Online ordering
Contact www.yummytiffins.com

JAPANESE BENTO BOXES
Price Rs 120 onwards; Bento boxes for Rs 450 each
Numbers 1500 food boxes a month
USP India's first Japanese take-away food store
Contact www.sushiandmore.com

Entrepreneurs in Mumbai are offering a new spin on the old dabba service. One of them, Pratik Jain , realised the monotony of the dabba during his Bschool days. "My idea was to fill the gap between a restaurant and tiffin service provider," says Jain. As India's first online customised tiffin service, the critical part of the Yummy Tiffins concept was to build a website that was user-friendly.

Clients can register for free on the Yummy Tiffins website. They then either customise their meal from the extensive, largely Indian menu, or opt one of the many meal plans created by the team. These include diet, mini meal, big bite, jumbo fest and Jain meal (all-vegetarian without onions, potatoes, ginger and garlic).

The concept works as a pre-paid service. Each users' account balance reflects on their homepage. For each meal, they can choose from five food items from the menu. "The balance in his account reflects his day's choices," explains Jain. Clients can 'make' their own meals for up to three weeks in advance. If they change their mind, all they have to do is cancel or modify it online a day in advance.

The other distinguishing factor about Yummy Tiffins is that the food has a homecooked feel to it. The chefs ensure that the food is cooked in a healthy medium and there is minimal use of oil, salt and spices. They also steer clear of pre-cooked gravies, preservatives or artificial colours in the meals.

Unlike other competitors, Sushi and more, as the name suggests, is a Japanese takeaway. Its owner says this is India's first take-away Japanese food store. "The idea behind opening Sushi and more in 2011 was to take forward the successful promotion of authentic Japanese ingredients and food through catering," says Anuj Jodhani who heads this venture.

Jodhani says that the years before the take-away store's opening were a learning process. "Though Japanese food has still not become an everyday preferred meal, many of our customers order regularly," says Jodhani. "We deliver 50-80 Japanese food boxes a day which include sushi, tempuras and curry-rice food boxes. Our aim is to popularise Japanese cuisine and also to make it more accessible and affordable." Considering they use authentic Japanese ingredients, Sushi and more's prices of Rs 120 for a soup/ appetiser and Rs 450 for a bento box don't seem outrageous.

What's common to the macrobiotic meals, easy-to-customise tiffins, and Japanese food delivery venture is the changing trend of executives' preferences for healthy meals that combine taste with the right calories. In fact this slimming trend is even visible in the shape the new tiffins take. Bulky, three-tiered carriers have now made way for flattened, airline-style food trays.

They now arrive on ready-to-heat microwaveable trays, folded in cardboard boxes and with a customised calorie count. The dabba has arrived.

 

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