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Before I go any further I should assure you that this dish doesn’t contain any bunnies—unless you want it to. Bunny chow (called a ‘Bunny’ by those in the know) is actually a curry served in a hollowed-out loaf of bread, and can be made with beef, mutton, chicken, beans, or indeed with rabbit, as you wish. A popular street food in South Africa, this dish is traditionally served without a knife or fork. Instead, the soft inside of the bread is placed on top of the curry, and is used to scoop it out to eat. As you work your way down, you tear pieces off the loaf and use these too. Things can get messy, and it takes some practice to eat Bunnies without ending up with curry in your lap.
The origins of this unique meal are rather unclear. It comes from Durban, a city on the east coast of South Africa which is home to the largest population of Indians anywhere outside of India. Many of their ancestors were originally brought to the country to work on sugar cane plantations during the nineteenth century. One theory is that Bunnies were invented as an easy way for these workers to carry their lunches to the fields with them. A more concrete story credits a restaurant called Kapitan Vegetarian Restaurant, which served bean Bunnies to Indian caddies at the Royal Durban Golf Course. The owners of the restaurant were known as Banias, an Indian social caste of merchants or shopkeepers, so that might be how the name Bunny chow came to be.
Making your own Bunny is easy, as you can use any Indian curry recipe you like. The only essential is that you use a nice crusty loaf of bread which will be stable enough to hold all the ingredients in. The recipe below is the one I used and serves four people. It’s more of a special occasion meal, as it involves quite a few obscure spices. Buying interesting ingredients always makes me feel like a ‘proper’ chef!
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cardamom pods
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons of garam marsala curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon chilli powder
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon ginger powder
2 bay leaves
A handful of curry leaves
4 garlic cloves, chopped
A splash of sunflower or vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 lbs lamb or beef cut into small pieces, or butter beans
2 large potatoes, chopped into small pieces
Chopped fresh coriander
2 loaves crusty white bread
1) Heat the oil in a frying pan. Fry the star anise, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, bay leaves, fennel seeds, cumin seeds and onion until the onion goes clear.
2) Add the curry powder, ground coriander, chilli powder, and turmeric. Fry it all up. The spices may stick to your pan at this point, but this is a good thing as long as it’s not a fancy expensive one. If the spices start to burn add a little more oil.
3) Add the chopped tomato and stir until the stuck spices come loose. Continue to cook on a medium heat, stirring often, and you should get a sauce start to develop.
4) Add the ginger, garlic, curry leaves and the meat or beans, with 300ml of water.
Get this boiling then leave it to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender and the water has half cooked away. Fish out the star anise and cinnamon stick at this point.
5) Add the potatoes. If they’re raw add another 200ml of water. I trick I use it to cut the potato into cubes then put them into the microwave in an open plastic bag. After about 8 minutes on full heat they should be softened, and won’t need as much water.
6) Continue to simmer the curry until the meat and potatoes are completely cooked and the water has reduced to a nice gravy. Stir in some chopped coriander leaves.
7) Prepare your bread bowls. Cut each loaf in half and scoop out the soft bread from the centre, leaving enough space for a quarter of your curry. Ladle the curry in, garnish with extra coriander and put the scooped bread on top as a lid.
Nowadays in a restaurant setting, Bunnies are often served with sambals, or side dishes. The most traditional is a mix of grated carrot, and chopped green chillis soaked in white vinegar. My uncle Chris, an experienced curry chef, also recommends bananas in milk (to prevent them going brown), yogurt with chopped cucumber, and fruit chutney (mango is my favourite). Enjoy!
Image: my own