Food delivery spices up Indian train journeys
PASSENGERS on India's vast railway network have long complained of the meals on offer to sustain them on long journeys. But a slew of new services bringing fast food to their seats is changing the way they dine.
From Kentucky Fried Chicken to Domino's pizza and local delicacies, today's passengers have access to an array of dishes, all at the click of a smartphone app.
For Amit V, who has ordered a vegetarian curry dish to be delivered to his seat, the new services are a godsend.
"This food is 100 times better than the railway's food," the mathematics teacher said.
It is all a far cry from what was on offer just a few years ago, when there were reports of cockroaches being found in dishes. In one case, the samosas - a popular snack - were kept in a basket with cleaning mops.
The new services are part of the process of modernising India's state-owned railway network, which carries around 23 million passengers a day.
Asia's oldest rail network is a lifeline for the country's 1.2 billion people.
Last year, the government announced a US$137 billion (S$189 billion) five-year modernisation plan that includes introducing free Wi-Fi in some stations, in partnership with Google.
Google says the service will cover 100 stations by year-end, with an eventual target of 400 - a further boost to online food delivery services.
Last year, Indian Railways invited chains such as KFC to sign up to its e-catering service, which allows passengers to pre-order online or by phone for delivery at major stations.
The next step will be to set up "base kitchens" in major stations to allow companies to prepare food for delivery to passengers.
A host of private entrepreneurs are also trying to tap on the market, among them Pushpinder Singh. He founded TravelKhana (Travel Food) with his wife in 2012.
The company signs up individual restaurants close to stations on busy routes, providing a delivery service for a fee.
The key to success is speed.
Delivery services have just a few minutes to locate their customers before the train pulls out from the station.