Bunny chow, which contains absolutely no fluffy rabbit, has a dark past that is just as sketchy as Kentucky fried chicken. While KFC has its roots in legislation designed to control the lives of African Americans, bunny chow has a similar origin in apartheid-era South Africa. In many places, black South Africans were barred from eating in restaurants, so the idea of serving food inside bread was adopted as a means of supplying food without requiring anything unseemly like returning crockery to the restaurant. Bunny chow appears to emerge some time after World War II.
The term ‘bunny chow’ comes from a homogenisation of Indian culture when sub-continental immigrants arrived in Durban. In the same way that ‘Indian’ food in the UK encompasses Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani cuisines (remembering also that it was the British Raj who mashed the region’s kingdoms into three easily digestible chunks), South Africans viewed all their incomers as ‘Indian’ regardless of where they actually came from. The merchants were called ‘bania.’ When they sold food (i.e, curry), they sold ‘bania chow.’
If you look at recipes, then it turns out that the basic bunny chow is a rogan josh spooned into bread.
The idea of serving food in hollowed-out bread dates from the Middle ages before the dawn of plates when the aristocracy would eat food from bread ‘trenchers’ and then toss their sodden bread receptacles to the servants to eat as a ‘profit’ … which is where we get the term ‘profiterole.’
A bunny chow is simply picked up and eaten with the hands like a massive, slowly-degrading sandwich.
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- Half tsp cumin seeds
- Half tsp fennel seeds
- Half a cinnamon stick
- 2 cardamom pods
- 1 star anise
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- Pinch sea salt
- 2 tbsp curry powder
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1kg lamb, diced (use leg making this quickly, use anything else for a longer braise)
- 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
- 1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
- 12 curry leaves (if available)
- 2 potatoes, peeled and cubed to same size as the meat
- 2 tbsp coriander, chopped
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- Loaves or rolls of crusty white bread with the tops cut off, and the insides removed and cubed (see notes).
- Chopped coriander to garnish
Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the whole spices and bay leaf until the spices just start to crack.
Add the onion and some salt and cook for 5–7 minutes until translucent.
Stir in the curry powder and sauté for one minute, then add the tomatoes and stir to mix.
Cook on medium heat, stirring a fair bit, infill everything is soft and creamy – like a chunky sauce.
Add the meat, ginger, garlic and curry leaves (optional) and 300ml water, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40–50 minutes or until the meat is tender.
Add the potatoes, salt to taste and 200ml water. Continue simmering until the meat and potatoes are perfectly cooked (about 15 minutes).
Stir in the chopped coriander and lime juice.
To serve, spoon into the hollowed bread and garnish with more coriander. Eat with the hands (see notes).
If the cubed bread and the casing is too much to stomach, just bits the cubes in a food processor to make breadcrumbs for another dish. The correct way to eat a bunny chow is just to pick it up and go for it.