South African cuisine has a rich history of mixing cultures and interesting food discoveries. A Durban-original dish, the bunny chow is a delicious local curry traditionally placed in the hulled-out center of a half loaf of bread.
There was a large number of Indian migrants arriving on the Durban coast during the Apartheid era and they brought with them a wide range of Indian dishes, which included their traditional curry. A particular favorite was bean curry with roti, which is a flat round bread that can be wrapped around the curry.
During this time many people began selling food on the streets in their local communities. Despite being a favorite, the roti could not hold the curry properly as it became soft and fell apart. Since they didn’t have takeout containers, they decided to use the cut-out loaves of bread as ‘containers’ for the curry takeout orders.
An alternative view suggests that the idea of the bunny chow originated from Indian caddies working at the Royal Durban Golf Course, whose lunchtimes were too short to eat their food. The story goes that they would ask friends to buy curry from local Indian sellers, and would bring it in cut-out bread loaves because of the lack of takeout containers.
The name ‘bunny chow’ is an adaptation of ‘bania’, the caste of the Indian men who sold curry, while ‘chow’ refers to food.
Many years later, the deliciousness of the bunny chow has spread to other parts of South Africa and is still a popular option for lunch.
HOW TO PREPARE BUNNY CHOW
- Heat the oil in a large wide heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they start to brown, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Add the cumin, garlic, ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and star anise, and cook, stirring often, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the curry powder and some chili powder (if you want it spicy) and cook for another minute.
- Stir in the chicken, coating well with the spices, and cook for about 2 minutes.
- Add the cilantro, salt, tomatoes, potatoes, and curry leaves. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes.
- Add additional seasoning, if necessary.
- Dig out the center of each bread loaf half in one piece, reserving the “plug”. Spoon the curry into the hollow of each loaf half and place the plug on top. Serve with carrot salad.
Using your hands, break off some of the bread and use it to scoop up some curry and the carrot salad.