Bunny Chow: How Indian Migrants Helped Fight Apartheid In SA
Image Credit: Bunny Chow | Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

The Indian community in South Africa comprises 1% of the population but was actively involved in supporting and assisting the African National Congress (ANC) in their fight against apartheid from the early 1900s. 

One story, and dish, is a symbol of Indians and Africans in South Africa struggling together to overthrow Apartheid. Bunny chow is a popular South African dish today. The making of bunny chow started when Indians couldn’t serve the native African people at restaurants due to apartheid and had to package the food in a takeaway for them.

What is Bunny Chow?

Bunny Chow is a South African dish that is usually served on a hollow loaf of bread. It is a crumbly and spicy mix of beans and maize, stuffed into a bag of Indian paratha that is then steamed. You can also make it with a dumpling mix or a kebab mix. It is an inexpensive and hearty meal option for South Africans, especially due to the fact that it doesn’t require much effort to make and is also a great source of protein.

Bunny Chow was first made by the Indian community in the city of Durban back in the 1940s when apartheid laws discriminated against black and colored people. The policy also stopped black South Africans from entering restaurants or cafes. The situation was so bad that they had to order food from the sides or backdoors of restaurants. 

During those bleak times, the most popular dish was roti and beans. But the rotis were thin and crumbled easily if eaten later. So, Indian eatery owners hollowed out the loaves of white bread and stuffed them with bean gravy. A simple but effective workaround during a challenging period. 

Another theory says that Bunny Chow was the dish eaten by hungry Indian golf caddies who couldn’t travel from the golf course to their homes in Durban for lunch. The restaurant owners there would put the bean gravy in a loaf of bread so the caddies could grab a quick, filling meal.

The name Bunny Chow has several interesting origin stories, but none of them are verifiable. One claims the word “bunny” is derived from the word “bag”, as the dish is served in a hollow loaf of bread. Another popular version states that people of the Indian Bania caste used to sell this dish in the Natal province, and chow was slang for food; hence the name Bunny Chow.

Bunny Chow & the ANC’s fight against Apartheid

The ANC was one of the political parties in South Africa fighting for equality and justice for the natives and coloured people since 1912. It was formed by a group of people of Indian, African and European descent who had come together to fight for the rights of black Africans. Before the formation of the ANC, black Africans were treated as second-class citizens in South Africa. They were denied basic rights such as the right to vote and to own land. In the early 1900s, a racially discriminatory system known as Apartheid was imposed in South Africa. Under the apartheid regime, black Africans were forced to live in separate areas from whites and were treated as lesser citizens. The Indian and other non-black populations were grouped separately as ‘coloured’, and face much of the same discrimination.  As a result, the Indian community in South Africa combines forces with the African community to challenge the oppressive regime and fight for their rights. This shared history gives Bunny Chow a special place in South African history as a symbol of unity during its darkest days.  

Where To Eat Bunny Chow in South Africa

Today, you can find Bunny Chow being served everywhere in South Africa. It is served with chicken, lamb, vegetables, etc., and is poured into a loaf of bread. You can buy them in the quarter, half, or full sizes, with the lump of bread that is on top of the dish being called a “virgin." The thick gravy that is served is spiced with coriander, turmeric, and cumin, and is eaten without utensils. You have to be really careful while eating a Bunny Chow because you can end up spilling it all over your clothes. 

If you’re travelling to South Africa and want to taste an authentic Bunny Chow, then head to House of Curries on Florida Road, Durban, which offers a variety of bunny chows on its menu. This one-pot-meal is a delight to the taste buds and your best bet would be to start eating your bread from the top and move towards the bottom of the loaf where the gravy gathers.