My daughter is living in Durban, South Africa, doing a semester of study abroad. She keeps telling us about a food called “Bunny Chow,” so I decided to try to find out what it is. It’s a curry stew, usually made with lamb, chicken or vegetables, scooped into a hollowed out quarter or half loaf of bread.
There are several stories that claim to tell the origin of bunny chow in Durban. One is that Indian immigrants who arrived in South Africa to work on sugar plantations used the sturdy bread to carry their curry into the fields, a form of fast food that could be transported and eaten without much trouble. The other is that during apartheid the Indian immigrants, who were not able to be served with whites, would go to the back of the restaurant, where they could be served bunnies, as the locals call them, because they required no forks or plates. Roti, the traditional bread for curries, was too flimsy to carry the curry in, so the hollowed loaves replaced it and also served as a take out container. According to Food 52 blog, in both stories, “Bunny” is “a permutation of the word Bania, an Indian caste of merchants who sold the curries.”
The following recipe is adapted from the Travel Bite Blog, Madeline Grimes:
Author’s Notes: A thick curry served in a quarter, half, or full loaf of bread. South Africa’s answer to the hot dog.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 large white onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin
3 tablespoons garam masala
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
2 teaspoons tumeric
2 ground cardamom pods
2 tomatoes, diced
2 cups carrots, diced
2 cups potatoes, cubed
2 large, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1-2 cup chicken stock or water
2 unsliced loaves of crusty white bread, each cut across in half in the middle and most of inside hollowed out like a bread bowl.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the cinnamon and bay leaves until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
Add the onions and fry until they are almost translucent. Add garlic, ginger, and all of the remaining spices and cook another 1-2 minutes.
Add the carrots, potatoes, chicken, and stock or water. Stir and bring to a low simmer. Cook and cover for about 30 minutes until chicken is tender, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Spoon the curry inside the bread.