There are some things that immigrants have introduced to the culinary landscape of a city or nation, and became quite a popular part of the culture. In South Africa, it is the Indian community that brought bunny chow to the city of Durban in the mid-20th century.  

Bunny chow is a takeaway food that consists of hollowed-out bread and curry. The bread is used to scoop out the curry. One theory suggests that the hollowed-out bread was a mark of racial segregation. If restaurants in those times did sell the bunny chow to blacks or coloured people, the absence of cutlery ensured that the workers could not be given the same status as the whites. Bunny chow was a sort of sandwich made with leftovers. Of course, there is not just one version of this story. Apparently, the idea may have spread all over South Africa after one restaurant owner, G C Kapitan, started selling bunny chow. This theory links back to the point about Indian immigrants, also known as Banias, who brought their food along with them, but no one knows how curry and bread got named bunny chow. So, the one story that is more commonly told is one with the link to racism. 

Another theory suggests that initially, bunny chow was vegetarian. Indian people who went to work in the plantations would bring bean curry and roti along with them. They tried to reinvent the taste of curry which they ate back home. They made do with the ingredients that were available in the city. The spice mixes in South Africa are very different from the ones found in India. So with time, the curry adapted, owing to the influences in the vicinity. But the labourers had discovered a new way of eating the curry. Though this account is very similar to the one mentioned above, here’s what is claimed: bread was not just used for dipping, they also served as containers. The labourers hollowed out the bread in the centre and filled it with curry which was either made with chicken, pork, lentils or vegetables. From here, the idea spread to restaurants. Though curry was lentil-focused, meat could sustain their energy levels while the labourers worked in the plantations. So even the preferences changed, as it made more sense to eat heavy meals which made use of meat. The simple idea of roti and curry morphed into a classic snack that is deeply intertwined in the food culture of its hometown in South Africa. However, despite its link to Indian communities, bunny chow is difficult to find in India.  

While a sandwich is called a kota in Johannesburg, it suggests a connection with bunny chow. The word ‘kota’ is semantically similar to the word ‘quarter’. Bunny chow was served by size such as half quarter or one-fourth quarter.

 

Nowadays, eating bunny chow is considered a rare culinary experience of sorts, and the owners who serve it take pride in the fact that it should only be eaten with hands. But many people disagree and want to slice into it with a knife and fork. Nonetheless, it’s an extremely delicious item, so one has to put it on the list if one ever decides to visit SA! You can try making it at home too, but whether you want to make it with leftovers or fresh meat is your call.