After coming to Windsor from Punjab, India, Dhruv Jindal noticed a lot of differences. The biggest of them all was food.
"It's hard adjusting here. But when you come from India, because there we are used to eat homemade, different homemade food. So it's difficult adjusting here with the food that they give us," said Jindal.
Seeking familiar flavours, and not quite satisfied with offerings on campus, Jindal found himself walking down Wyandotte Street and discovered a tiffin service being offered at Bhullar's Groceries.
"They gave me a sample," said Jindal. "And when I tasted it and it was like, wow."
It's really popular with international students. - Joanie Bhullar, Bhullar Imports
A tiffin refers to a packed lunch that's popular amongst students and office workers in India. It consists of stacked metal containers, each holding one part of the lunch like roti, rice, daal and dry vegetable dishes.
Jindal fondly remembers getting these meals from his mother. It was the "taste of home" that attracted him to Bhullar's.
Tiffin services offer a "taste of home"
A 40-year-old, family-run business, Bhullar Imports is a wholesale business that specializes in South Asian groceries. Last fall, it added a tiffin service.
"So every day we do the basmati rice and the roti flatbread, which is handmade. That's the staple each day. And then we usually have one curry, like a lentil curry, and then one vegetable like today we did aloo gobi, which is cauliflower and potato," explained Joanie Bhullar, manager for Bhullar Imports.
Bhullar said a tiffin service felt like a natural extension for its business due Windsor's growing South Asian population.
"It's really popular with the international students. We also have a lot of busy professionals. We have some customers with chronic health issues. So it's a convenient and affordable option for just about everyone," said Bhullar.
According to data from Statistics Canada, in 2016 there were 8,145 people in Windsor-Essex who spoke a South Asian language, such as Punjabi or Hindi, as their first language, compared with 14,185 in 2021. That's an increase of 74 per cent.
Bhullar prepares 50 to 60 tiffin meals a day. It's had to refuse some customers who are outside its delivery area.
Demand spurs home-based tiffin services
Meanwhile, Harshit Jadav and his wife spotted the demand much earlier. It's been almost two years since they launched a tiffin delivery service fresh from their kitchen.
"Advertising on Facebook marketplace and I remember some of the days I had at least 50, 60 messages on day [asking] is it available, is it available?" said Jadav.
Jadav admits it can be challenging for small home operators to function like a commercial business.
"It is very difficult to maintain you know because every day you have to give you know good taste. If you're having a bad day and if your food… know people's gonna notice right away." said Jadav.
Bhullar has noticed a number of informal, small-scale tiffin services pop up and then disappear in recent years.
"I see a lot of people start and then stop. I think once you factor in the time, the delivery cost, the food cost, I think a lot of people stop doing it," said Bhullar.
However both are looking to expand as demand grows. Bhullar plans on opening a second kitchen on Tecumseh while Jadav continues to get orders from as far away as London, Ont.