The word “tiffin” is slang for lunch or a light meal in England. It originated in British India when the Indian custom took over the British tradition of afternoon tea by instead, enjoying a light meal or lunch, for the afternoon meal.
Tiffin’s in Boulder pays homage to the idea of enjoying authentic, southern Indian street-food, and has been doing so since it opened in August 2011.
Opened by Justin Patel, who hails from Gujrat, India, the space is small, simple, with gleaming colors of bright red, burnt orange and yellow walls dotted with Indian artwork and photographs. Matching its laid-back and non-excessive environment, Tiffin’s is tucked away in a corner of the Arapahoe Village Shopping Center on Arapahoe and Folsom.
When Tiffin’s opened two years ago, its focus was solely on vegetarian food common in southern India. This year, they’ve expanded their menu by also offering meat and, notably, some new northern Indian dishes. To contrast the two styles, southern Indian dishes are more heavily influenced by rice and coconut, and the dishes have higher water content and intense spices, whereas northern Indian — the Indian food most consumers are more familiar with eating — are often heavier, thicker and creamier.
A server on staff said they can still make almost anything on the menu vegan or vegetarian.
Orders are taken in back at the cash register, and customers are given a number for their table. Since Tiffin’s doesn’t have a liquor license, a refrigerated case sports drinks like chai, Izze, Fanta and Coke, mango lassi, as well as gulab jamun — a traditional Indian dessert akin to doughnut balls that are soaked in syrup.
The owners are usually present, milling about the restaurant, ensuring quality control, bringing guests their freshly prepared food or chatting warmly with regulars.
Real winners are Tiffin’s lunch combinations, which are an impressive bang for your buck. Lunch, served from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., offers three tiered curry specials written up on a board in the restaurant. You can choose one curry plus rice for $5.95, two curries plus rice for $6.95 or three curries plus rice for $7.95. All three are a steal for the portions you’re receiving. The spicy lamb vindaloo or the dal makhani (a vegetarian lentil curry cooked with spices) are standout offerings based on their vibrant spice and consistency. You can add on plain naan or roti for $1 each during this lunch special.
You also can’t go wrong with the samosa chat as a starter dish to share. It comes with two pastry dumplings, filled with soft curried vegetables and topped with ginger-tomato sauce, garbanzo noodles, chutney, fresh cilantro, red onion and garbanzos. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a vegan appetizer, try the idli sambar, which comes with three lentil cakes dipped into spicy toor dal soup.
The rest of the menu is composed of curries (meat and vegetarian), tandoori kabobs, biryanis (basmati rice sautéed with vegetables or your choice of meat) and a variety of dosas, which is a paperthin rice and lentil crepe stuffed with your preference of vegetables, spiced potatoes, onion sabiji and/or cheese.
In truth, I was slightly disappointed by Tiffin’s foray into North Indian cuisine, as it was once so niche by offering only southern Indian dishes, a move that helped it stand out from the other Indian restaurants in town. Luckily you can still find those traditional southern Indian dishes that its foundation was built on.
Nonetheless, their food is steadfast, the prices are low, and even though there are no frills they hold true to the tiffin afternoon enjoyment, with decidedly lighter street-style comfort food that delights the palate.
Go on, enjoy your tiffin. Tiffin’s is open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday, and closed on Monday. They also offer take-out and delivery.