Friday, April 15, 2005

Tengkats aka Mangkok Tengkats

The word Tengkats or Mangkok Tengkats mean Tiffin Carriers.

The word tiffin means Lunch, or any light meal.Tiffin is a word that perhaps more than any other evokes British India. It entered the language at the very beginning of the nineteenth century, perhaps because the fashion for eating dinner mid-afternoon was giving way to a main meal taken later in the day, requiring a lighter midday meal and a name for it. Why the much older luncheon or lunch wasn't used isn't clear. Instead, the English in India borrowed tiffing, an old English dialect or slang word for taking a little drink or sip.

The use of Tiffin Carriers is still very much alive in its traditional heartland of India. Lunches are still cooked at home by workers’ wives and then transported, often by train, perhaps 20 or 30 miles to their places of work by tiffin-wallahs, each three-tiered tiffin-carrier probably passing through several hands in a highly sophisticated and efficient cooperative process.

The use of tiffin carriers spread down to South East Asia. They come in all sorts Kow Tik - Enamel type ones embellished with flowers and some even with words wishing the recipents Happy Feasting on it, but the most unwieldy and unpractical table-ware made to Straits Chinese specifications is the Porcelain Tengkats. The tengkat dishes (usually four) are stack one over the other, they are so loosely fitted that a slight tilt will send them and thier contents tumbling down imagine the difficulty of transporting food. I was told that to help in the transportation some of the older tengkats have two circular wooden boards, one on top of the other and held by three post, one of which is detachable so that the tengkat can be fitted into the carrier. To facilitate carrying a brass or iron handle in fitted on the top of the wooden board.

Now if only i can get to see one of those carriers and dine using one of the tengkats :-)