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Metal dabbas or tiffin carriers used in India to hold meals


Apparently from English tiffing, present participle of tiff ‎(to take a small drink, to sip) (slang).


  • IPA(key): /ˈtɪfɪn/
  • Hyphenation: tif‧fin


tiffin ‎(plural tiffins)

  1. (Britain, India) A (light) midday meal or snack; luncheon.
    • 1845, A Detailed Report of the Proceedings on the Trial of the Eighteen Parsee Prisoners for Murder, before the Supreme Court, Bombay, on Wednesday, July 17, 1844. Also, an Appendix, Containing the Examinations, Depositions, and Confessions of the Prisoners after Trial. With a Petition to the Queen in Council, from the Native and European Inhabitants, on Behalf of the Prisoners, London: Samuel Clarke, 13 Pall Mall East, OCLC 495782937, page 42:
      That garden belongs to Manockjee Metta; that day many of us met and had tiffin and supper. At tiffin there were ten of us.
    • 1895, Oliver Optic [pseudonym; William Taylor Adams], Across India, or, Live Boys in the Far East (All-over-the-World Library; 3rd ser.), Boston, Mass.: Lee and Shepard, Publishers, 10 Milk Street, OCLC 1805114:
      "Bring sahib coffee at six in the morning; breakfast at nine; tiffin at one." / "What's that last one, Moro?" / "We had tiffin at Suez, and it means luncheon," interposed Morris. / "I didn't hear the word; but it is all right, and tiffin it is after this time. Come; are you going down-stairs, fellows?"
    • 2004, Harry Berry, My Darling Wife, or, How I Passed the Time of Day Between 18th April 1940 and 5th November 1945: Being the Unexpurgated Letters, Diaries and Other Scribblings of an Ordinary Soldier, Hertford: Authors OnLine Ltd., ISBN 978-0-7552-0155-8, page 288:
      Had tiffin at 11.30 a.m. 1½ rations of rice with fried fish. Added frying oil and soup powder. Excellent, both in quantity and quality, but stomach is a bit troublesome. Can't wonder at it really!
    • 2008, Sarah Murray, Moveable Feasts: From Ancient Rome to the 21st Century, the Incredible Journeys of the Food We Eat, New York, N.Y.: Picador, ISBN 978-0-312-42814-3, pages 88–89:
      Tiffin is an old colonial term. Often thought of as a snack taken with afternoon tea, tiffin is actually a light lunch eaten at midday. Indian colonial writings make numerous references to tiffin. [] Tiffin was not always the lightest of meals. In a 1904 account, Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, an American travel writer and photographer, described the overindulgent culinary order of the day in colonial Calcutta: "The solid two-o'clock tiffin, following the heavy ten-o'clock breakfast, is so soon succeeded by the four-o'clock tea and the eight-o'clock dinner, that it is a surprise that any one survives the constant feasting which fills Anglo-Indian life."
    • 2013, Sara Roncaglia, Feeding the City: Work and Food Culture of the Mumbai Dabbawalas, Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, DOI:10.11647/OBP.0031, ISBN 978-1-909254-01-5, page 22:
      Tiffin work started with Raghunath Medge's father, who worked first of all at Bombay Churchgate station. When the British Raj was in power, then there was work at Churchgate. The people who worked at Girni had tiffin delivered to them. [] People went out early in the morning and tiffin was delivered later.
  2. (Britain, India) A container used to carry a tiffin; tiffin box, tiffin carrier, tiffin container.
    • 2011, Mahtab Narsimhan, The Tiffin, Toronto, Ont.: Dancing Cat Books, ISBN 978-1-77086-039-1:
      "Young memsahib, an empty tiffin box costs ten rupees in the market. With the food, it's worth maybe fifteen rupees. Do you think I could retire after I steal it?" the man said. “I'm getting late. Do you want your husband to get his lunch or not? That last one's for him, isn't it?" He jerked his chin at the tiffin Anahita was still hugging.

Derived terms[edit]


tiffin ‎(third-person singular simple present tiffins, present participle tiffining, simple past and past participle tiffined)

  1. (Britain, India, intransitive) To eat a light midday meal or snack.
    • Rudyard Kipling
      Pack had been tiffining by himself to the right of the arch, and had heard everything.