The Bunny Chow – An Icon of the Rainbow Nation
“The ‘Bunny’ is a metaphor for the first generation diaspora Indian, local from the outside but Indian at heart” – Minal Hajratwala
The Bunny Chow has a history mired in much myth and legend but one thing that is for certain is that it has no ties to rabbits at all. It is a testament to The Rainbow nation’s colorful past. The only other certainty is that its home and birthplace is definitely the coastal city of Durban in Kwazulu Natal.
The Bunny chow originated in the Indian Community of the city (Largest population of Indians outside of India,) during the apartheid era when Indian restauranteurs started to use hollowed out loaves as curry take-out containers.
This was during apartheid, a time when their establishments could not serve black customers through the front door, hence they served the popular roti and beans in scooped out loaves of bread from the back door. The bread served as the perfect edible container and the meal was wrapped in newspaper for convenience.
The popular dish
The popular dish began to be known as a bunny chow, a term derived from the word Bania, an Indian caste, and the slang word for food, chow.
Rajend Mesthrie, author of A Dictionary of South African Indian English, and Linguistics professor at the University of Cape Town also believes that bunny chow evolved from a reference to the Bania shop owners who made them. – (See more at: http://www.foodandthefabulous.com/indian-food-easy-peasy/bunny-chow-whats-name/#sthash.IoPLxcAI.dpuf)
Indian cookery doyenne Madhur Jaffery (Madhur Jaffery’s Ultimate Cookery Bible) and historian Lizzie Collingham (Curry: A Tale of Cooks & Conquerors) suggest that bunny chow originated when members of the Indian merchant class, called ‘Banias’, set up curry shops in Durban. – (See more at: http://www.foodandthefabulous.com/indian-food-easy-peasy/bunny-chow-whats-name/#sthash.IoPLxcAI.dpuf)
The other theory…
The other theory as to the origin of the Bunny, as it is locally known, is that it was invented for the Indian caddies at the Royal Durban Golf Course who were unable to run down to Grey street for a curry at lunch time. Their friends would bring them curry down to the golf course in hollowed out loaves of bread as there were no food containers available. This lends credence to the name too as the curry proprietors on Grey Street were known as Banias, the merchant class of Indians who had come across from India and set up their shops in Durban.
It is said that one of the most likely places it originated from is the G.C. Kapitan Vegetarian Restaurant which was situated at 154 Grey Street from 1912 until 1992 and frequented by people such as Indira Ghandi.
When ordering or talking about them, one usually refers to Bunny Chows as Bunnies. The Bunny is consists of a hollowed out Quarter, half or full loaf of bread commonly filled with curries made from Durban: bean, chips, chicken, lamb, beef, vegetables or mutton curry. The original curries were vegetarian but they are now found with the myriad of flavours available on the local scene. They often come with a side order of grated carrots, chili and onion salad, known as sambals. The piece of bread taken out of the hollow centre is placed on top of the curry and referred to as the virgin. This is used to dip into the curry and eaten as one digs into the bunny itself.
Don’t take it literally
When ordering, one typically doesn’t mention the word bunny but instead asks for the size and the filling they would like in it. ‘Quarter beef’ would mean a quarter loaf of bread filled with beef curry.
It’s not advised to eat a bunny chow with utensils as it is quite messy and hard enough to do with your hands. One usually rips the sides off the ‘container’ itself and uses them to dip into the curry and eat. The trick is to not rip below the line of curry or else it could get very messy, with curry streaming all over your lap as it is poor form to eat it out of a plate!
There is a competition held every year in September, called the Bunny Chow Barometer on the South Bank of the Umgeni River, just above the popular picnic spot called Blue Lagoon, in Durban. Every year the competition attracts a multitude of competitors from the Durban area all vying for the title of champion bunny maker.