Food on the go
If the omelettes and cutlets served on trains fail to tickle your palates, fret not. Moumita Chaudhuri points out that you can order food from websites that promise to deliver hot and hygienic food to train travellers
Something about those oozy aluminium foils — to say nothing of the smell inside — can put you off food while you are travelling by train. So Divya Gopkumar, who loves to travel and eat healthy, decided that she had to do something about the bland train fare. She found a website that offered the schoolteacher just the dishes she wanted.
"I travel with my children and hence hygiene is most important to me. travelkhana.com came as big surprise. We ordered food from the train and it was delivered to our seats," she says.
Enterprising websites are solving travellers' food problems. travelkhana.com is one such site from where food can be ordered online for train journeys. And there are many others — including merafoodchoice.com, idlivada.com, khanaonline.com and comesum.com. Comesum also has its own food outlets in many stations.
"Food on trains is quite unpalatable, with no attention to quality and hygiene," says Pushpinder Singh, who started travelkhana.com in 2012. Singh, who graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University, and then did his MTech from Pilani, realised that there was a demand for well-cooked hygienic food in trains. "Many travellers have to compromise and buy sub-standard food they'd never eat at home. Often, there is no food at all on trains, even if customers are willing to pay money," Singh says.
So he decided to send food — from a vegetarian thali and masala dosa to pizza, sandwiches and butter chicken — to hungry travellers. A typical thali would cost a person Rs150-Rs 200. The site also provides special thalis for those with dietary restrictions.
These websites provide travellers with a wide range of food — South Indian thali, North Indian thali, Gujarati thali, pav bhaji and so on. You can log on to a website even while you are travelling and place an order, or call one of their toll-free lines. These websites have arrangements with vendors across the country and they ensure that the food of your choice is delivered to you to your seat at specific stations.
"Because of my work I had to often travel to places such as Visakhapatanam, Bangalore and Hyderabad," says Piyush Suresh Kasliwal, who is the co-founder of merafoodchoice.com. "And since I had serious problems with the food served on trains, I decided to open a website through which passengers could order their food online," says the former software engineer.
Kasliwal explains that once they get orders from travellers, his team passes the orders on to vendors at various locations. "The food is then sent to the station desired by you. Just remember to order your food at least two hours before you need it," he stresses.
The method is simple. Log on and fill in a few details such as your train and PNR numbers. Then select your food and pay online. You can also pay on delivery.
Satish Agarwal, a passenger who was recently travelling from Mumbai to Howrah, booked his food online and was happy with the outcome. "What I really liked was that their associated restaurant tracked my train's running status, and kept in mind that the train was half an hour late. The dinner was fresh and sufficient," he says.
Pune businessman Nitin Laddha found the websites a great help while travelling to Puri via Calcutta. Being a vegetarian, he always worried about the indifferent food served by railway caterers. "A friend suggested that I order from merafoodchoice.com. The food that was served to us was of good quality and the rates were quite reasonable."
idlyvada.com and khanaonline.com provide only vegetarian food to their customers. "We have a dedicated team of customer service personnel who take the order (on phone if you so wish), track the train and make sure the food is delivered to you at your seat," says Dinesh Kumar, director operations, idlyvada.com. Kumar is one of the owners of the site, with A. Anil Kumar (chairman and managing director) and Siva Ganesh (director technology).
There have, however, been occasions when the sites have failed to deliver. "There can be many reasons for this," explains Ashish Jain of khanaonline.com. Sometimes the vendors do not send their delivery boys on time. There are occasions when a train, running late, makes up and arrives at the expected time — leaving the station before the food can be sent across.
In such cases, Jain says, all efforts are made to send the food at the next station. "And we make sure that we serve something extra to compensate for this — say something like an ice cream or some dessert," Dinesh Kumaar of idlyvada.com adds.
Abhishek Agarwal, the owner of Comesum restaurants, says the company uses "world-class packaging material" to keep the food fresh and warm. "So food does not get spoilt as it would normally in summer months," he adds.
People travelling in large groups stress the online sites are a great help because different people have different food choices. Kasliwal points out that groups often place their orders two months in advance.
L. Thirugnanasanbandam, a tour organiser who was travelling with 1,790 passengers in a special train, was happy with the food the group was served. "merafoodchoice.com accepted our order for food just a few hours before the delivery time. The train was late and reached at 2.30am instead of 6.00pm — but they still served us warm food," he says.
Buoyed by the good feedback, the sites are growing. travelkhana.com says it is present in 170 locations and serves 1,000-1,500 meals a day. On busy days, such as during a period last month when the Telangana issue was boiling, leading to a lot of travel to and from Hyderabad, the site had to provide food for 8,000 people on a single day in two trains. idlyvada.com, with vendors in 140 locations, caters to an average of 150 thalis a day, or 700 thalis or so during school and college vacations. merafoodchoice.com is present in 164 location and serves almost 500 meals a day; 1,000 meals during vacations. Singh says that travelkhana.com is growing by 17 per cent every month and has earned Rs 45 lakh last month. merafoodchoice.com is growing at a monthly clip of 15 per cent.
That's not surprising. Indians love to travel, and they love to eat. And when the two interests meet, there is nothing quite like it.