steel masala box

How to Arrange Masala Dabba

5 minutes, 13 seconds Read

The masala dabba is a circular stainless steel container that houses up to seven spices in individual compartments. It may look unassuming at first glance, but it holds a lot of value in Indian kitchens. It’s a symbol of the culture that cooks with it, a reminder to share and preserve recipes that are as much about the people who make them as they are about the ingredients themselves.

Organizing Your Masala Dabba

Indian cooking requires a lot of spices that are added in different stages of the process. The masala dabba is an organizational system that allows for the spices you use most frequently to be easily accessible. It also encourages you to cook more often because your spices are always right there in front of you. You don’t have to dig through a bunch of different spice jars to find what you are looking for, which is why storing your spices in a stainless steel masala dabba spice box is so much more efficient than using individual containers.

The dabba is usually circular, and it holds up to seven small containers of spices called katoris. You can fill them with the spices you use most regularly, which helps keep the dabba fresh. You can also add whole spices like urad and chana dal for tempering, if you want to.

The masala dabba may seem mundane at first glance, but it’s an important part of Indian culture and cooking. It’s a symbol of domesticity and a reminder of the foods that connect us to our families and traditions. It’s also a tool that enables Indian kitchens to thrive. Even today, when many Indian chefs have moved from kitchen floors to elevated home kitchens, a masala dabba hasn’t lost its appeal or its purpose.

Organizing Your Spices

Having a masala box in your kitchen makes cooking Indian dishes easy. It saves time from scrambling around your pantry for different bottles and packets of spices. However, if you don’t have a masala box you can still organize your spices in jars to keep them close at hand. Ensure that your spices are clean and dry before putting them in storage, and get rid of any that have gone past their best. A small spoon is typically kept with each spice and lives in the masala dabba, but you can also put one in your pantry to prevent cross-contamination or over-portioning.

If you have a large collection of spice jars, consider alphabetizing them to make it easier to find what you’re looking for. This is especially helpful if there’s more than one cook in your household. If you’re not comfortable with storing your spices, you can try organizing them by cuisine instead.

You can even take your organization to the next level by creating a separate masala dabba for each cuisine you frequently cook, says professional organizer Julie Nandan of Done & Done. “You can use a smaller spice caddy or carousel-style organizer to store these,” she says, adding that they’re perfect for keeping close to the stove. “They’ll also allow you to rotate the spices around as needed for the dish you’re making.” Alternatively, you can use a spice drawer or cabinet to store your jars, but choose one that’s close to the stove and outfit it with a set of drawer dividers to maximize space.

Organizing Your Containers

A masala dabba is an unassuming, flat steel canister that holds seven small containers of spice blend supplies. In Indian kitchens, its seemingly nonchalant treatment is not an act of irreverence; lifting the lid off reveals a heady paroxysm of smells and spices that will soon become part of the cook’s cooking. It has become a symbol of the kitchen’s ritual, a family heirloom, and a testament to cooking inspired by culture, familiarity, and care.

The open display in a masala dabba also makes for easy decision-making and fast cooking, as spices are added at different times throughout the cooking process. The design of a masala dabba allows for the quick identification and selection of the right spice for the right time, and prevents cross-contamination by keeping all the daily-use spices together.

Most modern masala dabbas are made of stainless steel, but they were originally wooden boxes. Traditionally, a masala box was made of carved wood with recesses the size of a drinking glass to hold each spice. Stainless steel became fashionable in India in the 1950s and 1960s, and eventually replaced the wooden boxes.

One of the key components to a dabba wala’s delivery management system is the color-coding on the boxes. They use a standardized system of symbols, numbers, dashes, and letters to indicate information such as the origination suburb, destination station, and who is responsible for the dabba. This simple and efficient system is designed to be understood by anyone, including illiterate dabba wala.

Organizing Your Lids

Unlike the sleek spice carousels we’re used to seeing in modern kitchens, masala boxes are simple, practical and, importantly, reusable. Stainless steel is durable and easy to clean, making it the perfect material for this purpose. Masala container also has glass lids that are easy to remove and clean, so you can keep your spices safe from moisture and insects.

When the masala dabba’s lid is lifted, it marks the start of a meal’s preparation. The kitchen floods with heady paroxysms of aromas, and the cook gets to work. This effortless access to spices makes Indian cooking easier, and it also encourages the cook to use more spices and experiment with new flavours.

Traditionally, Indian spice boxes were made from wood and brass. They were often a fine specimen of regional artistry and craftsmanship, and they might even be heirlooms passed down through generations. The sleek, modern masala dabbas we’re familiar with today are a fairly recent development, however.

According to Nandan, it’s likely that “the earliest masala dabba had five recesses instead of seven as we have come to expect — primarily for whole spices like urad dal and chana dal, which are used as tempering.” While these boxes may seem ordinary at first glance, they’re treasured by their owners. They’re homage to the meals of childhood, and they hold memories of cultures and lands far away.

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