A few weeks ago we decided it was time for a lekker curry – hot and spicy – and what better way to serve it than as a traditional KwaZulu Natal bunny chow.
For those not in the know, Bunny chow has nothing to do with rabbits, but is rather a traditional Indian meal that originated in KwaZulu Natal, a province in South Africa. Durban is the main city in KZN, hence Durban bunny.
A bunny chow is essentially a hollowed out loaf of bread (either a whole loaf or a half or quarter), filled with traditional curry and then the removed bread is put back on top. It can be eaten without utensils and is a popular take out meal in KZN.
There are many stories of how the bunny chow came to be and the truth is not clear, but here are some of the theories…
Taken from Wikipedia:
“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. The food was a means to serve take-aways to excluded people. During the apartheid regime, Indians were not allowed in certain shops and cafes and so the shop owners found a way of serving the people through back windows, etc. This was an easy and effective way to serve the workers. They cut out the centre portion of the bread and filled it with curry and capped the filling with the portion that was cut out.
An alternative story of the bunny chow’s origins (which similarly provides an etymology) is that, as in India, merchants who traditionally sold their wares under the ‘bania’ tree (also known as the banyan, or Ficus bengalensis) were called ‘bania’. The use of this name is known in India going back to antiquity. It is more likely that the name ‘bania chow’ was adopted to describe the staple meal of Indian merchants than taken from a restaurant run by Banias, although the true origins remain somewhat disputed.
Stories of the origin of bunny chow date 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) required a way of carrying their lunches to the field; the hollowed out loaf of bread was a convenient way to transport their vegetarian curries. Meat based fillings came later. The use of a loaf of bread can also be ascribed to the lack of the traditional roti bread, in the absence of which a loaf of bread would be acceptable as an accompaniment to curry.”
Wherever the bunny chow came from I am thankful for its existence, there is nothing quite like a hot, spicy curry served out of bread. The bread soaks up some of the rich, spicy gravy and anybody that knows me can tell you that there’s not much more I love (ok I love a lot of food, but still) than warm bread and something to mop up off my plate with it;-)
Traditionally the bunny is made with standard issue government loaves of bread, but in these days of foodie enthusiasts more and more bakeries are producing specially formed tall, round loaves specially for bunny chows. Restaurants have also jumped on the bandwagon and have taken to serving gourmet bunny chow, no real difference except you may get some sambals on the side.
We were hoping to get a couple of these specially produced, individual bunny chow bread but alas the bakery was all out. Nevertheless we were able to improvise with a large round roll, which we just have to cut in half to serve – not a perfectly traditional bunny but basically the same thing!
We made a lamb curry, which in retrospect needed a lot more chilli, we’ll add some dried chilli flakes next time, but if you prefer a milder curry then follow the recipe below:-) You can also substitute the lamb for meat of your choice or keep it veggie.
Durban lamb curry
- 1 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 whole cardamom pods
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 c oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 Tbsp garam masala
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp turmeric
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 1 kg leg of lamb, cubed
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 6 curry leaves
- 2 large potatoes, cubed
- Fry all ingredients listed under whole spices.
- Add fine spices and fry until the spices stick to the bottom of the pot. (Do not, I repeat, do not, use a kiff pot for this curry – your lovely, expensive non-stick one will be destroyed – go al cheapo!)
- Add tomatoes, stir until the spices loosen.
- Add meat, ginger, garlic and curry leaves.
- Simmer for about 30 min, until meat is tender.
- Add a little water and the potatoes.
- Simmer until meat is tender and the potato is cooked.
For the bunny chow part…
Scoop out the inside of a loaf of bread, put curry inside, garnish with coriander leaves…eat with your hands and enjoy!
PS Sorry for the rather blurry photos…I’ve been using my lovely iPhone to take photos, but I don’t have the steadiest hand 😉