September 21, 2019

Traditional South African Foods – The Bunny Chow

This week we look at another delicious South African meal loved across the country – The Bunny Chow. This staple Indian street food had its humble beginnings in Durban, but it is now eaten across the country and loved by South Africans of all backgrounds. The name might suggest that it contains rabbit meat to the ignorant foreigner, but we all know that the only bunny in this tasty dish is in the name.

A Bunny Chow is a hollowed out quarter, half, or full loaf of bread filled with vegetable or meat curry, topped with the soft inner bread that was hollowed out. This is quite a curious combination as curry is authentically Indian, but this type of bread loaf is European in origin. Curries are traditionally eaten with roti, a round flatbread.

Indian migrants came to Durban between the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. With them they brought across their unique spices and traditional recipes to South Africa’s shores. There are a few theories of exactly how the bunny chow was invented, but it’s generally assumed that by the 1940s it was a staple food in Durban. The hollowed out bread loaf was used as a portable container for Indian laborers working in the sugar cane fields. The soft bread removed from the inside was used as a kind of utensil to mop up the gravy and eat the curry inside. Rotis are too thin to hold a curry like a bread loaf as they become soggy very quickly. Another theory is that it was invented by take away establishments in Durban. Cheap disposable containers and utensils were not so prolifically available as they are today, so the takeaway places improvised by selling their curry in bread loaf. The curious name of this dish is also disputed. Most people agree that the “bunny” part probably comes from the word for the merchant class of Indians, bania. And the “chow” part simply means food.

The Bunny Chow is a no-frills Durban icon. Although you can find gourmet options on many of South Africa’s top restaurants menus, traditionalists swear that the only way to eat a bunny chow properly is to tuck right in with your hands.