The term tiffin refers to a light meal eaten during the day, or the containers of home-cooked food packed for office workers and school children. It is often equated with lunch or high tea.
The name tiffin has a complex history. It was derived from "tiffing", an English term for having a little swig of diluted liquor. The Lexicon Balatronicum, compiled in 1785, describes it as "eating or drinking out of mealtimes".
Tiffin was introduced in South East Asia and India by the British colonialists, who brought with them their habit of high tea. In India this idea suited the Tamil Brahmin community in the south, who usually had no breakfast and instead had an early lunch followed by tiffin at tea time.
Over time even the lunch boxes – usually tiered metal containers stacked on top of another and clamped down from the sides or the top – became known as tiffin boxes.
Many believe the first tiffin boxes were invented to carry food from temples without spilling. They were probably also inspired by the food servers in train stations who carried stacked food boxes.