Peace, Love & Giraffes

Chasing dreams and adventure in South Africa

My Current Obsession: Bunny Chow

For me, few things beat a good curry. It is the ultimate comfort food – creamy, warm, savory, sometimes sweet and as spicy as you like.

I’ll never forget my first curry experience, it was a Thai Panang curry with chicken at my next-door neighbors house. Growing up, anything oriental was never on the family’s menu. They are more the All-American type. I remember looking at the curry in my skeptical teenage way, but one bite and I was convinced. At that moment it was one of the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve been craving it ever since. Whenever my husband goes away, my go-to takeout food is curry. Jono is not the hugest fan (he’s had a few bad experiences), but I’m slowly converting him.

Since I’ve been in South Africa, I’ve been stuffing my face with anything Asian-influenced I can get my hands on. Chinese curries, Indian samoosas, pad thai, green thai curry…maybe it’s wrong to lump these dishes all into one category, but the thing is, the Asian flavor is just delicious, and I really don’t discriminate.

Luckily it isn’t hard to find. You can find a samoosa shop in almost every shopping center. It’s almost been enough to make me forget about my other favorite ethnic food : Mexican, (almost). I had seen bunny chow listed on the menu in Indian take-away shops, but I tended to shy away from it and stick with Vegetable Makhani. The name “bunny chow” alone is a little confusing, like, is there rabbit involved? (I now know there isn’t…) and curry in a loaf of bread? Why? I’ll stick to rice.

Man was I mistaken!

One day my friend Mandy and I were bonding over our mutual love of curry, when she mentioned bunny chow. She said her and her boyfriend had one at the best place in Joburg and that we needed to go. My curiosity was piqued, and when I saw bunny chow being offered at the Rand Show, Joburg’s Fair, I knew I had to try it.

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And this is it boys and girls. Bunny chow is hollowed out mini loaf of bread filled with curry (either beef, chicken or lamb – never bunnies!) and the veggies of the chef’s choosing. This one had shredded chicken, peas, carrots, corn and onions, served with a tomato, onion relish. It is actually not of Indian origin, but South African, created in Durban and loved by the Indian community. You can read more about the history of the bunny chow here.

The verdict? TASTY!  The curry was a little surprising to me. More like the yellow, chinese curry I’ve had in the past, and had a very mild spice. Jono helped me finish it and was surprised how much he liked it.

A few weeks later and Mandy and I found ourselves talking about curry again. The more we talked the hungrier we got and we decided we would go to her spot and get a bunny chow for lunch. Enter, the curry cafe.

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A nothing fancy kind of place in Randburg that is known for its bunny chow. They have chicken, beef or lamb and they only come in one level of spiciness: ridiculously HOT.

To be fair, I was warned it would be spicy, but nothing could  have prepared me for the spice that was about to enter my mouth. At the same time it was so flavorful, I couldn’t stop eating it. None of us could. We went through all the serviettes on the table, blowing our noses and then taking another bite. It was amazing how different this curry was than the one I had at the Randshow. It was a darker, curry, brownish-red in color, and had no veggies, only meat and potatoes and out-of-control spice.  I finally realized the point of the bread – to soak up the extra curry gravy (this one was overflowing!) and to help defray the spiciness.

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My hands down favorite bunny chow, came two weekends ago at the NeighborGoods Market in Braamfontein. First of all, I LOVE this market. The vibe can’t be beat, there’s always plenty of people, tasty food and drinks to go around, which is always good in my book.

We took a lap around the market to see all of our options: Eggs Benedict, waffles, burgers, oysters…bunny chow…yes, that’s right, I went for a bunny chow for the third time in two weeks.

Out of the other bunny chows I tried, this one was my absolute favorite! The spiciness fell somewhere in the middle of the spectum, which was perfect for me. It had a splash of what looked like Indian Tzatziki sauce (google tells me it was probably raita), peas, potatoes, beans and delicious chicken all in a soft loaf of bread.  Washed down with a glass of Du Toitskloof Sparkling Wine and I was one happy gal!

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If you are visiting South Africa, do not leave without trying a bunny chow! It’s South African street food at its finest – filling, affordable and full of flavor! And don’t be afraid to try more than one vendor’s version until you find the one that is perfect for you.

To all my South Africans out there – where do you get your favorite bunny chow?

 

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By | May 14th, 2014 | SHOW COMMENTS (6)

6 Responses

  1. Alan says

    My favorite, these photos look awfully sophisticated with a bit salad on the side and white plates, what upmarket Bunnies. My days in Natal, brown bags, hands to eat, don’t forget the big bottle of Coca-Cola, just the best food on earth. We have been away from SA now for 18 years, I am surprised to see “Bunny Chow” on sale in Johannesburg (Gauteng)never could get it up there, had to wait for our trips back to Durban, where my poor mother-in-law would say I can prepare you a nice lunch, no-thanks, going to Overport to get a “Bunny Chow”.

    A bit of history, once in JHB I asked an East Indian curry place for Bunny Chow, needing a fix for my craving and got promptly put in my place “THATS SLAVE FOOD” yikes!. The history of Bunnie comes from the Slaves of Natal in early SA history. A number of East Indians where brought into Natal to work as slaves on the sugar cane fields. The wives of the men needed to give them food to take out into the field and came up with the idea of putting their curry into the middle of a loaf of bread, capping it off with the middle filling, (no Coca-Cola then 🙂 ), and sending them off with the lunch, the rise of the “Bunny Chow”. This is why Bunny Chow is unique to Natal, and the SA East Indian culture. From growing up in Durban, I am still seek that elusive “best curry”, which of course can only be found in Durban.

    • Nicole_Ehrlich says

      Thanks for that bit of history Alan, very interesting. Wikipedia describes a similar history, but it’s always good to hear it from an actual human 🙂 I’m so glad Joburg has come around and is finally serving bunny chow!

  2. Fat Dave says

    I was in South Africa (Durban, East London & Cape Town primarily) for two years as a missionary from 1988-1990. I have not been back but would so love to. I agree with Pearl, I love a good bunnie. Living in the states, you don’t see them every day so I have had to develop my own recipe based on memories of eating them in Durban. Beef is my favorite, but I also love mutton and chicken and beans. Thanks for the photos and the wonderful blog!

    • Nicole_Ehrlich says

      Thanks Dave. You’ll have to send along the recipe you use. I’m going to be in the same situation when I go back to the States.

  3. Pearl Harris says

    BEST Bunnie Chow’s are in Durban – we have a huge Indian Community here in Durbs and you should be able to get a bunnie (you don’t have to say anything more than “bunnie” here in Durbs)- any street corner cafe that sells curry will have a bunnie, just ask for a quarter or half (depends on how much you can eat – quarter and half means the size of the loaf of bread) mutton/beef/beans (you must ask is it sugar beans [foreigners know them as pinto beans] or butter beans [my personal fav])/veg bunnie. My fav is to have a quarter half mutton half butter beans bunnie. And they are ALL excellent. If you want to judge the quality of the place you are buying from just check out how busy the counter is – if the place has a queue – you are in the right place! 🙂

    • Nicole_Ehrlich says

      Thanks for the advice Pearl! I’ll have to add it to my bucket list to have a “Bunnie” in Durban. Thanks for the tip on having half butter beans. I love butter beans! I’ve had a quarter every time and it was a lot food!