Project Food Blog Challenge 6: Tiffin Tales

Picnic Collage 2a

What is it about picnics that makes everything taste so much better? From the time I was a kid, I have absolutely adored picnics. While all the other kids wanted to be a part of the Famous Five because they solved mysteries and had cool adventures, I mostly wanted in because of the lovely food they ate – in caravans and caves, on farms and islands. If you’ve read the introduction to my blog, you’ll know of the impromptu picnic days I used to have with my dad. On long summer vacations, to get me out of my mom’s hair, he would take me to ‘town’ (downtown Bombay), where he worked. After he had finished his meetings, we would take the tiffin mom had packed to the park or the beach. (Stop giving me spell-check errors! Tiffin is a legitimate word to describe a mid-day meal and also the tiered metal lunch box it is carried in.) The name of this blog was derived from the memory of these happy meals. And I could not be more overjoyed when the next Project Food Blog* challenge, which was to design a meal to go, gave me an excuse for another picnic.

Picnic 3

But before we get into that, let’s take a little detour. Because no story about tiffins could be complete without a special mention of Bombay’s tiffinwalas (or dabbawalas – literally, someone carrying a box). Their business is to deliver freshly prepared lunch from people’s homes to their offices, an uninterrupted service that delivers 200,000 lunches everyday! The BBC filmed a documentary on them and they even caught the attention of Prince Charles on his visit to India. The Bombay lunch scene would not be the same without these hard working, humble group of people. For this post, I wanted to prominently feature the tiffin, but couldn’t find one in any of the Canadian stores. So I just decided to take a page from the dabbawala’s philosophy for my picnic food – simple ideas perfectly executed.

Picnic 4a

I wanted food that was simple but still creative, could be made ahead of time (no one wants to spend hours in the kitchen on picnic-day) and traveled well. I also resisted the urge to carry fancy plates and cutlery; for me, picnics are a hands-on affair and I needed food that looks good on its own. I was sifting through ideas when I heard someone in office complain about pop tarts that taste like cardboard. Immediately I knew I was going to make homemade pop tarts. But instead of going the usual dessert route, I decided to turn them into a savory side and the Pepper Jam Pop Tart was born. I layered my favorite sweet-sticky-spicy red pepper chutney, which I had featured here previously, on sheets of homemade pastry dough. A little cheese and another sheet went on top; an egg wash, a sprinkle of poppy seeds, some primping and poking with a fork and the little buggers were ready for the oven. When they came out half an hour later, I couldn’t resist a bite. Pastry flakes flew everywhere, the pepper jam complemented the cheese and buttery pastry perfectly and I’m not ashamed to say that I didn’t stop at one bite.

Pop Tarts Collage

Continuing with my theme of dessert for side, I turned to the French and their Cake Salé or savory cake. Baked in a loaf pan, it is popularly served with apéritifs but I think it makes fabulous picnic food. Cheese is an essential element of this loaf but apart from that, you can add in what you like – I added sun-dried tomatoes and olives and used basil as my herb of choice. The cake came out with a golden, craggy top and a loose crumb. What was leftover from the picnic is going to be toasted and buttered for breakfast. Excuse me while I make a quick trip to the kitchen.

Bread Collage

The French are really good with picnic food, and living where they do, why wouldn’t they be? For the mains, I made a sandwich that is meant to be made ahead of time – the Pan Bagnat, the traditional sandwich from Nice. As with all classic recipes, there are as many versions as there are people. Mine had an abundance of tuna, hard boiled eggs, olives, red onions, tomatoes, roasted pepper, garlic, basil and a red wine-olive oil vinaigrette layered on a crusty baguette. A lot to fit into one sandwich but once you wrap it up tightly and sit a heavy pot or kettle or books on it, the sandwich becomes easily manageable and all the flavors mingle and meld with one another. All you need is a napkin.

Pan Bagnat Collage

My vegetarian roommate gave me a good excuse to make the Bombay Sandwich – street food and picnic fare that gets me all nostalgic. What is it, you ask? 3 slices of bread, one layered with vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onions), another with a gently spiced, boiled potato mixture, the third with a thin layer of cilantro and mint chutney; all layers spread with butter and heaped with cheese like it was going out of style, and grilled to triple-decker sandwich perfection. Even though I showed restraint while making mine, a bite still had the power to transport me to snacks outside college and road trips back home.

Sandwich Collage 2

Although coffee is my favorite all-time drink, and snowy winter mornings just beg for hot chocolate, when it’s fall and raining outside, there is no better cure than my mom’s masala chai, a milky tea simmered with warm Indian spices. I was also inspired by the pumpkin latte that is ubiquitous in coffee shops during this time. Thus came to be the Pumpkin-Spice Chai – pumpkin puree whisked into milk and simmered with a mix of cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, ginger and tea leaves. Hot and steaming (my thermos did a really good job), it was the perfect thing to sip on a cold day.

Tea Collage

Is it time for dessert already? Do you have space for a giant cookie – one that’s crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, studded with white chocolate chips, cranberries and roasted macadamia nuts, and that exudes an aroma of browned butter when unwrapped; a cookie that’s the pinnacle of cookie perfection? Yes? I thought so.

Cookies Collage

But I hope you leave some room for this apple cake adapted from Marie-Helene in Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table. This is less cake and more an excuse to hold in buttery suspension the many, many apple chunks that go into the batter. Needless to say, it’s a very moist cake and, as I’ve discovered, only improves with age. A perfect ending to a beautiful fall picnic.

Apple Cake Collage

Did you say fall picnic? Well, a picnic in October has its own pitfalls. Apparently it was raining all over the world yesterday (a scientific fact deduced from my fellow food bloggers’ tweets). Despite the fact that it had rained all week and that it was just the two of us, my roomie and I optimistically planned a trip to St. Jacobs Country, rich in Mennonite heritage. Public transport can be a boon, because we arrived in style aboard a historic steam train (the car we were sitting in was built in the 1920′s), winding our way through parks and woods and fields. We spent a happy hour poking around the railway yard, admiring the beautifully maintained carriages; one had even been turned into an ice cream store!

View Collage
Train Collage 1

The weather was being friendly, so we took a short hike on a section of the Trans-Canada trail. Ravenous by now, we found a quiet spot for our picnic and unpacked our goodies from the Project Food Blog hamper. No sooner had I taken a few quick pictures than it started pouring. (Of course!) Luckily, there was a covered picnic area nearby and we scrambled for it.

Picnic Collage

In spite of the weather turning cold and gray, we spent a few happy hours eating, talking, giggling, taking pictures (me), patiently posing for pictures (H) and eating some more. (If you saw a crazy lady fiddling with her camera timer and a stack of napkins as a tripod and running to get into a picture, that was not me.) A rainy afternoon is a perfect excuse for shopping and we spent another relaxed couple of hours roaming the picturesque St. Jacobs’ village. A hot cup of coffee and a chocolate treat (we couldn’t resist) later, we were on the bus back home. Tired, happy, full and content – signs of a day well spent.

Picnic Collage 3
Village Collage
P.S. *PFB voting is now open. Thank you so much everyone for your love and support.
P.P.S. To give the recipes the attention they deserve, I’ll be featuring all of them in upcoming individual posts. Keep your eyes out for them.

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72 Responses to Project Food Blog Challenge 6: Tiffin Tales

  1. Liren says:

    So charming! I have long adored the tiffin – though my mother was not Indian, she had her own version of a tiffin lunch growing up in the Philippines, one that was toted to her school with piping warm treats. I love what you did with this challenge, and that Bombay Sandwich is calling my name!

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks Liren! I used to take a tiffin lunch to school too. Only, sometimes I never got to eat my own lunch – all my friends knew what a wonderful cook my mom was. We used to have a short and long recess in school, and my lunch used to get devoured in the short break itself.

  2. Those savoury pop tarts look lush. I love anything wrapped in golden pastry. Love your ode to the dabbawallas!

    • tiffintales says:

      The pop tarts were an instant hit! You should definitely try them. I miss the dabbawalas delivering my hot lunch with a smile.

  3. beautiful photos and I agree picnic makes food tastes so much better. nicely done!

  4. notyet100 says:

    awesome pst,..good luck for the next challenge

  5. What a beautiful post. Sending a heart your way.

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks! Just checked out your picnic – I love the idea of having it on a yacht, but I don’t know how I’d actually do on it – prone to motion sickness : )

  6. Isabelle says:

    What a lovely meal! I’m sorry your picnic got rained out, though St Jake’s is beautiful even in the pouring rain (as I know all too well, because every time I plan a visit there, it ends up being cold and rainy!) I’m very intrigued by your triple-decker Indian sandwiches, and the apple cake looks fabulous.
    Good luck with the challenge. You’ve got my vote!
    PS – If you’re ever in Toronto, you should be able to find tiffins at Tap Phong Trading on Spadina near Dundas. It’s my favourite place in the whole city to go shopping for cookware and serving dishes. (And, needless to say, several shops in Little India would have some.)

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks for the tip Isabelle. The next time I come to Toronto, I’ll definitely be buying one. (They didn’t seem to have any in Waterloo, even at the Indian store.)
      P.S. Maybe we should meet up?

  7. I made Pan Bagnat for my French Pique-Nique too! I’d love to try your pop tarts…they look great!

    • tiffintales says:

      The etymology of pique-nique is so interesting. However, I wouldn’t agree with the definition of “something with no value” : )

  8. this is so totally a perfect “tiffin tale”, of course! love the pepper jam pop tarts (bookmarked: to make sooon!)

    • tiffintales says:

      The pop tarts turned out amazing – I will be posting the entire recipe very soon. (The roasted red pepper chutney is already on this site here.)

  9. Claudia says:

    You give new meaning to pop tarts. Must reconsider! Lovely posting and await the recipes.

  10. sippitysup says:

    I love that your meal echos all the beautiful fall colors. I am such a sucker for how things look and this looks stunning. GREG

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks Greg! I wanted food that was simple but still looked good on its own.
      P.S. Loved your video : )

  11. Melanie says:

    This post looked (and read!) so deliciously it gave me stomach pangs. Great job!

  12. Wow. Your food looks amazing! And your photos are as gorgeous as ever. Nicely done. Those sandwiches are calling out to me. yum! I voted for you!

    Good luck! Hope to see us both in round 7!!! =)

  13. fantastic job on this challenge, everything looks so tasty! especially those savory pies and apple cake…yum!
    Leila

  14. Asha@FSK says:

    Me like you menu!!!! Love the baguette

  15. Asha@FSK says:

    Oh yes and voted ofcourse :)

  16. ayantika says:

    Nice to come across your blog thru foodbuzz….its amazing how within a short span you are so well set into the PFB contest..Congrats!! your pop tart looks amazing and the filled baguette so colorful and yummy….how can i not vote for ya

  17. Mariko says:

    Those sandwiches look divine. I’ve been telling myself to buy a press forever now. Really interesting pastries, too.

  18. What a lovely setting for a picnic! I especially love those trains – and those are some gorgeous paninis!

  19. Annalise says:

    Such beautiful fall photos! Love the scenery and the menu looks amazing. You have my vote!

  20. I love those pressed sandwiches! And a great guide down your memory lane, too! (Voted!)

  21. I always enjoy reading your posts (love the Famous Five analogy!). Voted yesterday – good luck.

    • tiffintales says:

      Weren’t they the best?! I always wanted to be friends with them. I think I had a crush on Julian : )

  22. Kocinera says:

    Okay, can I pretty, pretty please come on your next picnic? I love everything in this post! I’d never heard of a Bombay Sandwich and I’m dying to give it a try!

  23. Sara says:

    One of the best entries I have seen. Good luck!

  24. elra says:

    Gorgeous setting, delicious food, great companions. Life is good !

    Good luck with the project.

  25. Lori Lynn says:

    So colorful, great destination!
    Your food looks awfully tasty!
    Happy to give my vote, good luck!
    LL

  26. Dana says:

    All of your picnic food looks so delicious… especially that moist apple cake!

  27. Great post and lovely menu…Nice!

  28. Your picnic looks fantastic. I’ve got a ton of apples right now and I think your apple cake is calling! Good luck in the competition!

  29. Sues says:

    That sandwich looks incredibly delicious!!! But then, all your food does! I’m so impressed :)

  30. Winnie says:

    I would never know it was raining- beautiful photos of an amazing picnic! Your food (and you!) are completely beautiful- what a lovely post :)

    • tiffintales says:

      The rains were playing hide-and-seek. I was scrambling to take pictures every time it let up a little. A complicated procedure that involved stopping in the middle of the street and taking my camera out of my backpack multiple times. That picture with the brooms provided a lot of amusement to many people: bag in one hand, camera in the other and umbrella held awkwardly tucked under my chin : )

  31. tiffintales says:

    Thanks a lot everyone for your lovely comments. It really makes my day to see you appreciate my work.

  32. What a wonderful picnic everything looks so delicious! Great job!

  33. Ashanka says:

    your pics make me HUNGRY! soo good! I hope you win this!! good luck!

  34. Maranda says:

    This meal looks amazing! I will admit…I almost passed it by but then say the pumpkin spice chai and had to come back. Every year I wait for the pumpkin to come out. Not because I love the pumpkin spice latte (it’s too sweet for me) but because I love to get a non-fat chai with a pump of pumpkin spice!!! That’s my favorite fall drink! Thanks for sharing this beautiful picnic with us! I must now frequent your blog to get that recipe (and more…that sandwich and pop tart looked amazing!)

  35. riceandwheat says:

    What a perfect picnic! It was definitely raining all over the world this weekend (or at least all over the PFB world) but you planned such a lovely, cozy menu that the rain seemed more like an invited guest than a party crasher. :) What I can’t get over is the sheer genius of savory pop-tarts! This has to go on my must-try list. Excellent post, Heena!

  36. Pingback: Homemade Pepper Jam Pop Tarts | Tiffin Tales

  37. Your creative menu is what grabbed my attention! It all looks amazing, but ESPECIALLY those savory “pop tarts”!! You clearly went above and beyond. You have a vote from me!

    For my entry, I wanted to create a road trip and picnic for my boyfriend, who had recently given me a “do over” of one of my childhood memories. I decided to give him his own “do over” — a special birthday picnic with a heart-themed meal. Come see if you’d like :)

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks Julie. I’ve already seen your post. Your do-over is adorable and I’ve always wanted to buy a picnic basket like yours.

  38. Rohini says:

    Heena,
    I have been reading your blogs and voting for you since the first foodbuzz challenge. You have a very engaging and personable style of writing. Today’s blog transported me to my childhood tiffin days, memories of the anticipation when opening up the tiffin box to see what delicious treats were waiting for me (and my friends) and then eaten by all of us in a matter of minutes – great memories, so thank you! :-)
    Good Luck on all the upcoming blogs and you have my vote!

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks Rohini! Weren’t they the good ol’ days when all you cared about were things like “I wonder what mom’s put in the tiffin today…” ?!
      I’m glad you’re enjoying the ride as much as I am.

  39. tami says:

    Rediscovered your blog through the Foodbuzz thing – what a gorgeous post! Both sandwiches look incredible. You’ve got my vote :)

    - tami

  40. oh my! i need some of that cake, asap! :) i love this post and all the delicious food you always make. i feel the need to bake more now!

  41. janelle says:

    wonderful pics; I voted for you AND found you because of this project! Cool beans!

  42. Paul says:

    Your food looks delicious. You bring a nice touch to the story by bringing in the mention of Bombay and the dobbawalas. This is very informative. You do a nice job. The photography is great and the food looks like the type of edible delights I am looking for when I do a little brunch or something like that. Very good article and lovely food. Good luck to you.
    Paul

  43. Tracy says:

    Oh, this looks lovely! I want to replicate the entire picnic with a vegetarian pan bagnat (though it will be tough to eat with mittens on). Great photos, too!

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