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Here In Africa: How’s About A Bunny Chow?

Barbara Durlacher introduces us to a tasty South African treat – the Bunny Chow.

Beautiful sandy beaches, a fine botanical garden, museums, a popular race course, interesting old colonial architecture, lovely coastal scenery and extensive outlying suburbs with many beautiful homes. Who could wish for more? The picture conjured up is that of one of South Africa’s favourite holiday venues and thriving business centres, as well as South Africa’s biggest port -Durban.

After an invigorating dip in the Indian Ocean surf, a run along the beach, or a visit to the Umgeni Bird Park, you’ve worked up an appetite, and fancy something tasty and substantial. So how’s about a Bunny Chow? Nothing to do with rabbits, not much to do with ‘chow’ as the Americans know it, but the ideal quick-fix for a healthy appetite.

Supposedly invented by second or third generation sons of the local indentured Indian labourers who arrived in South Africa in the 1860s to work in the sugar plantations, Bunny Chow has become synonymous with KwaZulu-Natal/Durban, although it’s popularity has caused it to be adopted throughout the country. It is such an easily reproducible food that if you asked any representative group to name their favourite snack, Bunny Chow would probably rank amongst the top items.

But what on earth is Bunny Chow, I can hear you ask, and how did the strange name originate?

Supposedly named after the ‘banias’, Indian traders or shop-keepers who allegedly preferred not to leave their businesses during working hours for meals, but sent out for easy-to-eat portable food, Bunny Chow has evolved into a popular snack enjoyed by everyone, particularly holiday makers and late-night revellers suffering from after-party starvation. It often replaces the greasy newspaper of vinegary chips eaten at the conclusion of an evening clubbing or hours of imbibing well, but none too wisely.

How to make Bunny Chow and what are the ingredients? That’s an easy one, as the makings can be found in most kitchens, or if you don’t have the most important item to hand, can readily be obtained from the nearest corner shop. Take a loaf of slightly stale bread, preferably one which has been standing uncovered on a shelf for a couple of days until the crust has hardened and dried out. Slice off the top, and dig a large hollow out of the interior before filling it with a mixture of your choice, which could be a traditional mutton and potato curry with plenty of spices and lots of good thick gravy or a hearty bean curry with lots of green chillies; or a mixture of vegetables and curry sauce, curried mince or even – perish the thought, curried Vienna sausages with stewed tomatoes. Placed inside the hollowed bread loaf, you eat this irresistible concoction with your fingers, breaking off pieces of the bread to dip in the sauce or to spoon up the meat or vegetables.

Then, satiated, you hand over the remains to your companion (or any other interested party) lick your fingers, and continue on your way. Bunny Chow is particularly popular along the Natal coast where fishermen, surfers and young holiday makers ‘grab a bunny’ at the end of a long day’s exercise.

Mmmm, a food which comes complete with edible container; leaves no utensils to clear up and satisfies the inner man (or woman) with hearty flavours and plenty of stomach churning indigestion, as well as producing that guilty feeling of excess and cholesterol overload.

Right. Now, where’s the nearest Indian fast-food shop?

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