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Indian Lunchtime Antics

January 20, 2012

Of the many differences between the American and Indian workplaces, lunch-time rituals are by far some of the most amusing.

Let’s set the scene for an employee in Manhattan: at 12:30 (or whatever your prescribed time) you likely get up from your desk, head downstairs to the deli and pick up lunch. Or you go out to a restaurant.

If you pack lunch, you either eat at your desk (because you’re busy) or step out of the office or into the break-room to enjoy your fare. Smelly dishes are quietly discouraged, and it is highly unlikely you will share your lunch with anyone.

If you’re one of those really ambitious people who works out during lunch, well then great. I guess you wont be able to distinguish American lunch antics from Indian ones. So don’t bother to continue reading.

This was how I expected lunch to be at my workplace. And then I learned the rules of eating lunch in India.

IMG00599-20111215-1305 (1)

1) What’s Mine is Yours…and what’s yours is Mine nahh? 

When I sat down at the canteen with a client and was served a Thali of vegetarian fare, I was appropriately frightened by the mountain of food I was expected to eat. But then, one by one, the others at the table began doling out their (home-packed) lunches onto my plate. I demurred, to no avail:

“Just a taste ji…”

“My wife makes the BEST bhindi-fry, you must  eat”

“Not enough you have eaten, please take-take”

“Noble roti daal, you must have!

It’s true, Indian hospitality knows no bounds. But very often…I don’t want your lunch. Mostly because I don’t want to proxy-offend your wife if,  by chance, I don’t like it and cant control my face. And also because of the tiny fact that once everyone has passed out their food, my plate looks like a slop bucket for a baby elephant. Who can eat so much??

2) Your Employer Owes You Some Pickle

At previous jobs, there were some times when we got really lucky and some conference or meeting meant leftover sandwiches, cookies, and cans of soda. Always an exciting day when you get some mushy chicken-salad wrap and the diet-Sprite that no one (no one) willingly drinks.

But typically, whatever you want to eat you provide for yourself.

In my Mumbai office, there is a whole list of things that are provided, DAILY. And if by chance they aren’t there one day, there is practically a mutiny.  These items include:

  • Eclairs Chocolate candies
  • Bottles of Coke/Fanta
  • Cartons of buttermilk (seriously, people choose to drink buttermilk. I’m still amazed)
  • Condiments such as mango pickle
  • Bananas, apples, and “Chickoos”
  • Potentially, tea and cookies at 3 pm. Not in my office, but in most.

Seriously, the lack of one of these in the office can easily inspire all-day grumbling by the pickle-deprived, whining from the banana-less, and a few grunts from the guy who drinks all the Coke.


3) Comments: Allowed. Thou doth not protest

One day as I poured myself a coke (a very respectible 200 ML, the prescribed serving) one of our directors (who is no longer employed with us) walked by and wagged his finger at me saying “Coke is not good for health!”

Other times, as I dig into a salad, coworkers announce proudly to each other “Maeve is on diet today.”

A colleague who really loves McDonalds is constantly berated for his supposed-poor-health. Graphic images of his heart exploding are described to him while he eats his burger. Forgive me if I think this is a little much…your food choices really are your own!


And now for something completely different:

Some great lunch shots


Vada Pav: Nicknamed “the Indian burger,” this little gem is spiced mashed potatoes, rolled into a ball and fried, then put in a bun with spicy grainy chutney. Coming in at 7 rupees and 7 million calories, I would say it is value for money.


One of my coworkers swears that the best flavor combination comes from combining a McVeggie burger and a McSpicy Paneer sandwich. Naturally, he achieves this by alternating bites. It’s my favorite part of the day:


(Don’t worry, he said I could post this picture. That guy chewing though…let’s hope he doesn’t read my blog)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kara permalink
    January 20, 2012 12:10 pm

    The commenting on the health of my food would drive me nuts! How do you stand it?

    Two lessons from the Chilean lunch table:
    1) if your lunch includes a fruit and a yogurt, you will be accused of only eating dessert
    2) rather than insist on sharing their food, they will insist on taking yours. every day, without asking.

    Lunch rituals of the world would be a great book topic!

    • January 20, 2012 12:15 pm

      I’ve learned to just let myself be a topic of discussion. The more I protest, the more it just becomes a whole debate. I wrote a post about the strange things that get said to me at work… I’ve finally learned to just let it be amusing!

  2. January 24, 2012 6:31 am

    Loved it! Especially the vadapav: value for money for sure.

    I get the “Bron is on diet today” a lot too, when I can’t be bothered with eating.

    Can’t wait to see you ce soir!

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