The Bunny Chow: South Africa’s Indian Invention

The weirdly-named Bunny Chow was said to have been brought over to South Africa from the Himalayas. Nowadays, this is the identikit Cape Town sandwich!

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Bunny chow, often referred to as a “bunny”, is a South African fast food dish consisting of a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curry. It originated in the Durban Indian community. Bunny chow is also called a kota (“quarter”) in many parts of South Africa, including Cape Town. When I was travelling in Cape Town I made a point of eating a bunny chow, even though I found them to be very expensive! Ultimately, though, they are one of my favourite kind of ‘sandwich’, and they remind me of the Taiwanese Coffin Toast concept (which I have eaten only in Singapore btw).

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Stories of the origin of bunny chow date as far back as when migrant Indian workers arrived in South Africa. One account suggests that Indian migrant workers who were brought to South Africa to work on the sugar cane plantations of Kwazulu-Natal (Port Natal) required a way of carrying their lunches to the field; a hollowed out loaf of bread was a convenient way to transport their vegetarian curries. Meat based fillings came later. The use of a loaf of bread can also be attributed to the lack of the traditional roti or chapati to accompany the curry.

bunnychow

These days, mutton, lamb, chicken, and even chips with curry gravy are popular fillings, although the original bunny chow was full of vegetarian curries. Bunny chows are often served with a side portion of grated carrot, although the version I had in Cape Town was just a chicken curry bread, with no sides apart from a small stash of rice. A key characteristic of a bunny chow is created when gravy from the curry fillings soaks into the walls of the bread, which can lead to one side of the bread crumbling and the contents pouring out, like the bursting of a dam! This messiness can cause problems, as bunny chows are mainly eaten using the fingers, and it is unusual to see utensils given out by the café when ordering it. Sharing a single bunny chow is not uncommon and can be an idea for a romantic afternoon in any South African city. Luckily for me, though, I had the whole thing to myself!

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