Daily Recco, October 16: Bunny Chow, where India meets South Africa

It is a dish that was originally meant as a practical solution to the apartheid. However, today Bunny Chow bears testimony to the ingeniousness of migrant workers and the pride of Durban.

 |  5-minute read |   16-10-2020
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It is World Food Day today — a day observed to mark the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) in 1945. It is also a day to profess your love for food. And on this day, we bring to you one of the most celebrated dishes of Indian origin in South Africa — the Bunny Chow, a dish that originated in Durban, South Africa, perhaps around the same time that FAO was founded.

Now before you ask us if it is a rabbit curry of sorts, lets us clarify that it originated as a vegetarian dish, but has many meat variants today — from mutton to lamb to chicken to even rabbit meat (yes!) curry, or a combination of fried sausage, cheese, eggs and polony (as bologna sausage is called in South Africa). The dish is served with a side portion of salad or the sambal, which is nothing but chopped tomatoes, onions and green chillies served with white vinegar. It is one of the most popular street foods in South Africa, and they take great pride in it.

Now, Bunny Chow is basically a hollowed-out loaf of bread, filled with curry. The dish originated as a tragically practical solution to the apartheid (and the associated untouchability) in South Africa in the mid-20th Century. When the migrant Indian workers (and their African counterparts) in sugarcane fields and the diamond mines had to work all day long, it became a problem to provide them with food. For, you see, the colonial masters were not too keen on providing them with cutlery or plates to eat their food. A simple solution evolved in the form of hollowing out a loaf of bread and filling it with vegetables and gravy. The thick edges of the bread acted as a container when closed with a thick slice; the holder or the plate when the slice was opened to reveal the curry, and it is eaten as the food itself! You tear the bread from the top and have it with the curry. No fussing with the plates or the curry. The bun (or the bread) and the chow (slang for “food” in South African English that eventually evolved to represent the gravy) became Bunny Chow.

main_bunny-chow_101620061613.jpgDurban's famous Bunny Chow

Bunny Chow can easily become the most comfortable food for you (and your family) in your arsenal. The curry filling is warm and the warmth is retained by the bread that is soaked in the gravy.

The list of ingredients and the process in itself might seem overwhelming at the first glance. But don’t let that fool you. This is one of the most simple dishes that you could have — no more complicated than making a khichdi or stew. We bring you the vegetarian version here. But if you are a staunch carnivore, feel free to make any thick-gravied spicy meat dish that you would normally have with rotis or naans. The dish is commonly served with salad and pickles, so feel free to bring out that jar of nimbu or aam ka achaar your mom left behind when she visited you last.

With no further ado, we present you the yummy, filling and the very nutritious Bunny Chow.

What you’ll need:

One full loaf of flat-topped, unsliced bread from the nearby bakery. White or brown, take your pick. We do not discriminate.

A teaspoon of cooking oil

Half a cup chopped onions

Half a teaspoon turmeric powder

One tablespoon ginger-garlic paste

One teaspoon cumin (jeera) powder

One teaspoon coriander (dhania) powder

One teaspoon red chilli powder

Half a teaspoon garam masala

One teaspoon freshly-squeezed lime juice

One cup finely chopped tomatoes

One cup finely chopped carrots

Half a cup finely chopped potatoes

Half a cup chopped beans

Half a cup shelled green peas

Five or six florets of cauliflowers

Two teaspoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

Salt to taste

How to:

Foremost take the bread loaf and slice the top off. Save it for later. Next, hollow out the soft centre, leaving thick walls of edges — that’s your bun or Bunny. (The cut-out interior can be further sliced up for your sandwiches for the next day.)

For the chow, add oil in a hot pan. Next, add chopped onions and salt and sauté well till the onions are translucent.

Now add the ginger-garlic paste, turmeric powder, chopped tomatoes, cumin powder, coriander powder, chilli powder, garam masala and sauté further for a few minutes.

Now add a little (about 30 ml) water and let it cook for a minute. Feel free to keep adding more water as and when the curry starts drying out as you need a nice, thick gravy. But ensure you add a little water at a time.

Now add the chopped carrots, potatoes, green peas, cauliflower and the beans and cook for another seven to 10 minutes on low heat. Once all the vegetables have been cooked, and you have the aroma of the thick gravy wafting through your kitchen, turn the heat off.

Add the lime juice and garnish with chopped coriander leaves. Mix well. With that, your Chow is now ready.

This needs to be filled in the hollowed-out Bunny and covered with the slice of bread. Put it away for about 10 minutes or till the bread starts soaking the gravy in.

Ideally, we say ditch the cutlery and have it the way the pioneers did. But feel free to enjoy it as you please!

With that, we wish FAO (certainly!) and Bunny Chow (tentatively!) a very happy birthday! May you continue filling our tummies and hearts.

Also Read | Daily Recco, October 14: Microwave Mysore Pak to kickstart the festive season


Rajeshwari Ganesan Rajeshwari Ganesan @rajeshwaridotg

Assistant Editor, DailyO

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