Bunny chow is a slang term for a South African fast food consisting of a loaf of bread, with the inside scooped out, and filled with curry. This is effectively a “Curry Chow”. It was created in Durban, during the 1940s, where the largest population of Indians in the world outside of India. Although it is clear that the food began under apartheid, the precise origins of the food are disputed.
One story (which also provides an etymology for bunny chow) has it that a restaurant run by people known as Banias (an Indian caste) first created the scooped-out bread and curry dish, in Grey Street, Durban, which is how bunny chow got its name. The food was a means to serve take-aways to excluded people. They cut out the centre portion of the bread and filled it with curry and capped the filling with the portion (the Virgin) that was cut out. Stories of the origin of the Bunny Chow have also dated as far back as the migrant Indian workers arrival in South Africa.
One account suggests that Indian migrant workers from India were brought to South Africa to work the sugar cane plantations of Kwazulu-Natal (Port Natal), essentially vegetarian they required a way of carrying their lunches to the field, thus the advent of the Bunny Chow, the bread was merely a vessel to carry the vegetarian filling. Meat based fillings came later.
The term Bunny Chow is dervived from two words – Bunny ( relating to Bania or Gujarati people) and Chow (South African Slang for Food). Another story of the origin of bunny chow suggests that bunny chow has a history outside KwaZulu-Natal: in the Western Cape, the food was known until recently as ‘curry bunny’, which derived from its original description: a curry bun.
Bunny chows are very popular amongst Indians, as well as other ethnic groups. Bunny chows are commonly filled with curries made using traditional recipes from Durban: mutton or lamb, chicken and bean curries are the more popular fillings, however the original bunny chow was strictly vegetarian. Bunny chows are often served with a side portion of grated carrot, chilli and onion salad, commonly known as sambals.
To keep the bread from going soggy, a lining of french fries is sometimes added to keep the curry away from the bread, however this deviation from the original recipe, does change the dish considerably, as the idea originally, was for the gravy from the curry fillings to soak into the walls of the bread, thereby rounding the dish off with the fusion of flavours & textures.
Bunny chows come in quarter, half and full loaves. When ordering a bunny chow in Durban, the local slang dictates that you need only ask for a “quarter mutton” (or flavour and size of your choice). Bunny chows are strictly a messy fingers affair, locals find the use of utensils quite amusing.