Outside In

Published on June 6th, 2013


Take out, take away, parcel, to go!

We’re no longer sitting down and eating – and our willingness to eat on the move has sparked interesting innovations.
Shweytaby Shweyta Mudgal

Mommy always brought me up to believe that one should stay put in a place while eating or drinking. Little did she know that the world I’d grow up in would believe the exact opposite – to eat and drink on the go!

‘Take out’, ‘Take away’, ‘Parcel’, ‘To go’ are the buzzwords of our times. Depending on which part of the world we are in, we use one of these terms whenever we order food or drink. They all mean the same thing – that one intends to take their meal or drink to some ‘other place’ to consume – may be at home, one’s office or a park.

Our eating and drinking habits have come a long way from the days when there was a more formal, stationary sanctity associated with the act. Today, shortage of time has expedited the process and eating on the go has become a routine part of our fast-paced lives.

Global eating-on-the-go is a growing market and a key consumer trend that has shaped the food, and more importantly, the drink industry. Accordingly, interesting innovations have been made to incorporate and accommodate this modern lifestyle trend.

In the West, for example, coffee to-go is served in paper cups. At most cafes in New York City, coffee is always served in a to-go cup, as nine out of 10 customers prefer to drink it on the  new york iconic paper cupmove. Thus, innovations such as the ‘coffee sleeve’ and the ‘cardboard drink carrier’ came about – the former to insulate the drinker’s hands from the hot coffee, and the latter to facilitate the carrying around of multiple cups of hot coffee.

In Asia – Singapore, for example – coffee to-go is a popular yet relatively new trend. Here, on ordering a coffee at a global cafe chain such as Starbucks, the barista still poses the question, “To have here or take away?” If opted to “have here”, coffee is served in a ceramic mug that one need not even clear up oneself, as there is an entourage of cleaning-and-clearing staff that makes a living doing just that. On opting to “take away”, the coffee is served in the usual ‘paper cup’ with a lid.

drinks to go to go bagAt local Singaporean cafes a.k.a Kopitiams, though, the take-away experience differs. Here, a drink taken to-go gets poured into a clear plastic bag tied with lanyard, and stuffed with a straw. Freshly-squeezed fruit juices, soft drinks and coffees can all be slung on one’s arm while being sipped (see pics above). The design of these to-go bags is intelligent, making for an easy hands-free operation. The lanyard can be hooked onto car-door knobs, motorbike or bicycle handles as well.

If one is not open to the idea of sipping from a plastic bag, one can opt for the conventional paper or singapore-loop around lid by shweyta mudgalStyrofoam cup to carry one’s drink in. Here too, is an interesting contraption at work – in the form of a simple plastic loop placed around the lid of the cup (see pic on right), converting the ‘hand-held’ into a ‘hangingly-held’ device, again enabling hands-free mobility.

Closer home, in North India, the use of age-old beverage containers such as the terracotta cup aka the kulhad has seen a heavy decline. Higher procurement costs in comparison to plastic cups have not helped its sustenance. Besides, firing the clay at higher temperatures to manufacture them causes the formation of a glassy substance that takes up to a decade to degrade, rendering the kulhad eco-unfriendly.

In cities like Mumbai, one can find chai stalls serving ‘cuttings’ in glass containers or flimsy plastic cups. Here too, the concept of ‘take away’ is fairly recent, due to the available labour pool of chai boys that provide a prompt ‘delivery service’, bringing glasses of chai to the customer (usually an Wire rack for tea glassesoffice worker or shop owner) in their smartly-designed wire-rack holders that can hold up to six glasses at a time.

Some of these daily innovations have now been iconised as collectibles – the classic New York paper coffee cup that read “We are happy to serve you” and now duplicated in a ceramic version has been sold in countless online and physical stores. The desi chaiwallah‘s indispensable wire rack with six glass holders is another example of a traditional keepsake item that has now turned kitsch.

The cardboard ‘coffee sleeve’ and ‘drink carrier’ (see pic on right) are both examples of contemporary utility items being transformed into creative fashion, art and architecture cardboard drink carrierprojects. And the Singaporean plastic to-go bags and ‘loops-around-lids’ have proved themselves as true icons of our changing times and habits.

So every morning when I get myself a ‘take out’ coffee, I make sure I ‘take away’ something more from it. I breathe, savour, smile, sip and ‘parcel’ up the moment, to transcend myself onto newer horizons – where I’ve never been before. So that at the end of my day, like my morning coffee then, I too deserve a “Way (to go)”!

A Mumbaikar by birth and a New Yorker by choice, recently-turned global nomad Shweyta Mudgal is currently based out of Singapore. An airport designer by day, she moonlights as a writer. ‘Outside In’ is a weekly series of expat diaries, reflecting her perspective of life and travel, from the outside-in. She blogs at www.shweyta.blogspot.com and can’t seem to go anywhere without her daily coffee to-go! 

(Pictures courtesy Shweyta Mudgal, fortyredbangles.wordpress.com, www.flickr.com, www.perpetualkid.com, bigthink.com, media.cmgdigital.com, www.telegraph.co.uk, corbis.com) 

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