The snack that involves no actual rabbits
A brief history of bunny chow
Hello, Snackers. Today on Snack Stack:
Credit: Robert Rutherford - Wikipedia Commons
Take half (or a quarter) of a loaf of soft white bread, pull out the middle, fill it with an Indian curry (mutton is the most common, but you can get all kinds). Typically served with a small shredded-carrot salad on the side. Usually just called a “bunny,” not “bunny chow” (order it using the shorter version).
Find it in
South Africa, especially Durban and the surrounding area
First things first: “bunny” comes not from what’s inside this dish (no rabbit, no carrots, just curry) but from “bania,” the Sanskrit word for merchant. “From the 'bania man shop' came the 'bunny man shop,' and from bunny man shop came the bunny chow,” one Indian South African in Durban explained to NPR’s The Salt.
Merchants were part of the second wave of Indians to come to Durban, in the late 1800s, following the indentured laborers who arrived by ship, starting in November 1860, to work in the sugarcane fields, mining, and railroad construction. (Today Durban is the world’s largest city for the Indian diaspora.) Even for those Indians not forced into exploitative working conditions, there was considerable discrimination by white South Africans in political power. After apartheid was officially codified, in 1948, Indians were forced to live in their own separate townships and were prohibited from even entering certain provinces.
Bunny most likely originated in the early days of apartheid, although the precise beginnings aren’t known. One restaurant, Patel's Vegetarian Refreshment Room, claims to have invented it in the early 1900s. The restaurant’s current owner told Scroll.in:
Earlier, black people were not allowed to eat in the same place as the white. To not lose out on black customers, Rambhai Morar Patel, the first owner of this restaurant, started serving them curry and bread in a bowl outside the restaurant. But the bowls would keep getting misplaced and so, he came up with the idea of hollowing out the loaf and pouring the curry in it.
Another version of the story is that the first bunny was made by cooks feeding hungry but penniless people who came to their door looking for leftover food. And some bunny researchers believe it has a more homespun origin, prepared by Indian workers as a cheap, easy food to prepare to-go, in a time and place where white bread was more readily available than roti, making it the curry-holder of choice.
Today, bunny is a signature dish of the Durban area, readily available at takeaway shops, and popular enough that it has an annual competition, Bunny Chow Barometer, sponsored by Coca-Cola, where ten finalists (from dozens of applicants) compete for the bunny-crown in meat, vegetarian, and other categories.
Here’s a little video introduction to bunny and how to eat it:
Get it here
Many places in Durban and surrounding cities, including Chetty’s Takeaway, The Curry O’s, and California Dreaming,
Pair it with
Imraan Coovadia’s novel The Wedding.
Will you like it?
Scroll.in: This Indian restaurant in Durban may have invented the city's popular street-food dish – bunny chow
National Public Radio’s The Salt: “Bunny Chow: South Africa's Sweet-Sounding Dish Has A Not-So-Sweet Past” (this story makes some particularly interesting points about how foods like bunny “speak to the degradation of the black diet under apartheid, with the cheapest cuts, such as chicken feet and sheep's heads, morphing over time into delicacies”)
CNN: “The Durban delicacy born out of the Indian diaspora”
Bunny Chow (blog)