Trains and Food
Food while on trains and near trains is the theme here. While we're hurtling through space at a frightening speed and also revolving on the earth's axis, since everyone else is doing it, we don't notice it and eat normally. But when on a train, we have the leisure to see that other things are static, and we ourselves can move around inside the thing and it can create all sorts of pleasant sensations, all of which make us hungrier than usual. Studies in the University of Massachussetts may have shown that people on trains in India start eating the moment they enter the station, well before the train draws in, and sometimes have a cup of tea on their way out and eat almost constantly in the interim. Here is some personal evidence of family and friends, but mostly me.
These journeys do not have a proper date reference, but the first six here were mostly in the period 2000-2006. Not historical by any stretch, but still referring to a period where some things are different (metre gauge, for one) and already having a wistful feel. As someone said, Nostalgia isn't what it used to be, these days!
A mentor of mine in all matters railway was the late Vasudev Kamath, who used to travel a lot. Train stories, photographs, timetables, incidents and details from Vasu are too numerous to recount here. Pertinently, Vasudev instructed me to intricacies of railway food. For example, placing an order for tea on the Deccan Queen from Mumbai to Pune is a serious matter. The man comes to take an order even before the train leaves VT station and Vasu got up from his window seat to deal with him at close quarters. He asked for unbuttered bread (apparently the dab of butter you get is not worth the extra you are charged for it, or put it another way, you get a reasonable sum off, with very little that you lose) and some other details and TWO cups of tea. This was because later on, during the rounds, only coffee is available, but tea only comes once and with the order. But for long journeys, Vasu had decided that bananas was the safest food to have. A tip straight from the stable is that the tea-stall at the south end of Elphinstone Road station in Mumbai is much preferred (over the man at the north end), as the tea is made with good milk and is therefore patronised by the knowledgeable.
On the other hand, another acquaintance of mine swears by platform and pantry car food, as it is "mass produced" and has a good turnover, what with one in hundred Indians getting on a train somewhere or other, every day of the year.
When I travel, I generally take no chances and partake equally of home packed food, pantry car food, platform food and even food offered by acquaintances on trains, keeping an eye out for drugged biscuits offered by thieving gangs, of course. In home packed food, my uncles by marriage are unbeatable, as they have turned it into a fine art, with the best catering chosen for the purpose, menus planned well in advance, balanced meals, including sweet-dish at appropriate meals and no stinting on quantity or quality. Travelling with them on a couple of journeys to the south has been a high point in my experiences.