India plans to phase out pantry cars on trains

Anyone familiar with train travel in India knows that it means long journeys across hundreds of miles, sometimes for many days. A cultural and sentimental staple of train journeys in India for a long time has been the pantry car, a section of the train where dozens of men worked hard at providing snacks for the hundreds of travellers across thousands of trains in cramped kitchens.

Men prepare food in a pantry car

Men prepare food in a pantry car Image by Ajay Tallam / CC BY 2.0

The pantry car has been a special feature of Indian trains that dates back to the British Empire, when dining cars were a common feature. Indian trains retained it and adapted it, offering up simple snacks of rice and vegetables along with more elaborate three-course meals. Train dining has for the most part been phased out of most  train travel across the world, and has become something that is exclusive to luxury train travel.  The pantry cars were a defining Indian experience for many travellers, and news that Northern Railway is planning on phasing them out saddened many.

Food on trains is a big theme of travel in India, and certain stops and stations are famous for their food options. But Northern Railway has announced it is going to shortly phase out the pantry car in favour of takeout options, e-catering, and a more European cuisine to suit its increasingly varied gastronomical taste.

Food on being served on the train

Food on being served on the train Image by Indi Samarajiva / CC BY 2.0

Speaking to The Guardian, train historian Vivek Khare described why the pantry car became a much-loved feature of Indian train travel: "You sit there and enjoy the natural scenes through the window and your breakfast at the same time." Whilst many bemoan the news that the pantry cars are to be no more, the meals were also criticised, at times, for their poor hygiene and particular greasiness.

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