Every day in Mumbai 5,000 dabbawalas (literally translated as "those who carry boxes") distribute a staggering 200,000 home-cooked lunchboxes to the city’s workers and students. Giving employment and status to thousands of largely illiterate villagers from Mumbai's hinterland, this co-operative has been in operation since the late nineteenth century. It provides one of the most efficient delivery networks in the world: only one lunch in six million goes astray. The Harvard Business School has used this venture as a case-history of a cooperative since 2009.
Translated from the original Italian edition, Sara Roncaglia’s ethnographic description of the Mumbaite system reveals that, in contrast with more sophisticated market cultures, the order of affections and food containers maintains its tenacious hierarchy of precedence, which is as much about ethics as it is about taste and aesthetics.
deeply rooted in the nutritional bond between family and work, men and women, etiquette and bodily ritual, and community membership.
Uniquely born of Mumbai's mix of religions -- Hindu, Parsi, Christian, Jewish, Muslim -- as well as many languages and ethnic regions -- this cuisine is also the result of several cross-cultural marriages between Europeans and Indians. The sheer simplicity of the idea—a service for transporting food prepared at home by the family to a customer’s place of work—underlies an entrepreneurial strategy based on the ability to exploit the interaction with Mumbai’s complex ethnic and social configuration.