Something to Chew On…

16 Aug

by Rajshree Solanki

Photo by Bandita. Licensed by Creative Commons Attribition-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

I’ve noticed around the DC area that more people are bringing in their lunches in tiffins. Tiffins have become an eco-friendly, hip way of bringing your curry chicken salad sandwich. For me, a tiffin just reminds me of my childhood and feeling different from everyone else. In My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the character Toula describes how she knew she was different and wanting to fit in the world of blond girls sitting around the table and eating their wonder bread sandwiches. The 6-year-old Toula brought in moussaka in tupperware. Change that moussaka to something Indian in a tiffin, and that’s me.

So I ask you:

Do you remember the time when your mom made peas and potato curry for your basketball team’s potluck?
Do you remember no one touched it?

Do you remember the time when your mom made you bring in your tiffin, which had your initials engraved in shakey handwriting? And the kids pulled out their My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake thermoses out of their matching metal lunchboxes?

Photo by nickd licensed by Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Do you remember when your dad made you bring in the puffy rice crisps that are fried and multicolored instead of cupcakes or cookies to pass out for your birthday?

Did you feel embarrassed, angry, not so hungry? Unsure of your place in elementary school world? How did it make you grow and change?

Photo of tiffin lunch by Bandita Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Photo of lunch boxes by nickd Attribution 2.0 Generic


Posted by on August 16, 2010 in Food


7 responses to “Something to Chew On…

  1. Ducky

    August 16, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    I have a tiffin now 🙂 And we had them when we lived in Vietnam, but they were for grown-ups. I never had a lunchbox when I was in school, was more the brown lunch bag kinda gal. I always did cafeteria food until middle school when I no longer qualified for free lunches. My lunches — toasted American sliced bread with Vietnamese pork sausage or fried rice — never got any attention from the other kids other than the occasional curious look. On the other hand, my older sister — who was working in a medical office — was told that her lunches were “stinky”. Not just schoolkids were subjected to ridicule.

  2. Heidi

    August 16, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    I recently received a tiffin-like container as a housewarming gift. Before that I hadn’t had any experience with them at all, nor heard of them! I think they are nifty, but I think I get what you’re saying.

  3. QueenRaj

    August 17, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Heidi – I love and appreciate my tiffin….NOW!
    Back then, not so much. I stuck out like a sore thumb. My Big Fat Greek Wedding just hits the mark on how I felt.

    Ducky – did your mom make any dishes to for potlucks? Do you remember if your school had an international potluck day? Mine did. No one ate my mom’s potato and pea curry.

    When I wrote this little blurb, a lot of emotions came up for me. Not just because of the tiffin, but it was the associated smell of the food. I was told that I smelled. I smelled because my mom made curry all the time. It would permeate througout the house! As a kid, that was tough. I’m not only different, but I smell!

    Smell as a prejudice… Look at comments in the blogs on Indians or other ethnic groups. It is appalling to see what is written on how Indians, Asians, etc on how they “smell”. Now I’m going to go and stress eat now. I brought my tiffin of salad.

  4. Ducky

    August 17, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    My Mom always made spring rolls (the fried kind) and fried rice for potlucks at my Dad’s workplace. They were a hit and she was asked to do that for every potluck. I think the reason I didn’t have such an issue because my Mom was selective about what she made. Spring rolls and fried rice were familiar enough to Memphians, not so the curry. Actually even now, I also have to be selective about what I bring to work, don’t think any dishes with shrimp paste or lots of fish sauce would go over well, and cooking? Also have to be careful about what to cook in communal space.

  5. Eun

    August 19, 2010 at 12:03 am

    Such an emotional post — and reaction! Raj, I’m curious whether you think a child today, in your exact situation, would get the same response. I see my young son and his friends oblivious to the origin of the sushi or kimbob or curry or samosas they’re all sharing at lunch or dinner. Maybe it’s their hyper-PC parents, or maybe it’s living in the DC’s multicultural ‘burbs rather than, say, Montana or Wyoming. Reading your memories, I certainly remembered myself in similar scenarios. I still cringe at the memories. Today, though, I wonder…

  6. Viraj

    August 20, 2010 at 9:49 am

    When I was young, my mom used to make me green chutney sandwiches. While I love chutney sandwiches, the children at school used to make fun of my food and called it “moldy”. I had quite a bit of trauma around that, which really led to me feeling alienated from both my life at school and at home. It makes me sad to think about how many years went by in grade school when I completely rejected my is an experience (you know, in combination with other racist shit kids/teachers said to me) that I think, in many ways, I have not yet recovered from.

    For me, college and joining the Indian Student Association was incredibly was so liberating to be around people that could relate to my experience that weren’t related to me by blood and who I didn’t need to explain anything to!

    As far as tiffins go, I feel extremely lucky to work in a place where I can bring my sabji in and my coworkers are more likely to ask to try/steal it or ask me for the recipe, haha!

  7. QueenRaj

    August 23, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Thanks everyone for your responses!
    Eun – I’m not sure if today’s kids would get the same response. There is just more out there than when I was a kid. There are more grocery stores carrying “ethnic groceries”, more food shows that focus on how easy it is to prepare Indian dishes (a la Martha Stewart:, and prevalance of more Indian/Asian restuarants in areas that you least expect. For instance, in Knoxville, TN, there are two Indian restaurants! Whether the restaurants are good or not, I’m not sure.
    See Aditya’s blogpost:
    I’m curious about the presentation of the food. I wonder about visual appeal and how food is presented/displayed/etc nowadays. Sushi is bright and colorful. You can get tiny samosas, which are cute and delicious. I’m a HUGE fan of bento boxes. I love how people make tofu, daikon, and brown rice look beautiful.

    Viraj – I want chutney sandwiches now! Yum Yum Yum.
    Food is such an ice breaker in good and bad ways. I’m glad to hear the positive experiences with coworkers in wanting to get recipes or try the food. Food is such a part of who we are. No matter what group we fall into.
    Ducky happens to be a coworker of mine. We’ve talked about planning an international potluck and maybe it would be a great way to talk about diversity in the workplace. I have a feeling that my mom’s potato and pea curry would go over better there.


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