The Lesser-Known Political Past Of An Indian Curry With South African Roots
When you hear of a dish that goes by the name ‘Bunny Chow’ tell me your mind doesn’t instantly conjure up an image of an enormous carrot waiting to be bitten to bits. Well, ours did and we were rather surprised to have found that this is in fact a simple dish consisting of curry and bread that has been popular in South Africa right from the 1860’s. What’s more is that this Bunny Chow appears to have a unique story of origin, born and raised by Indian hands. Over the years, the unsuspecting Bunny Chow has grown from being a dish handed out through a backdoor to having an entire festival dedicated to it.
While the exact origin of Bunny Chow cannot be confirmed, several stories point back to Durban, where it allegedly started. Indians who had voluntarily moved to South Africa to work as artisans or merchants, began to open up their own stores. South Africans grew to love the spice Indians dished out, however it was illegal for Indians to serve black South Africans due to apartheid. As a way to continue giving them food without the need for utensils, rice was replaced with a loaf of bread. A generous amount of curry was ladled into the loaf (the centre of which was hollowed out), and then topped with the bread scooped out. The innovation was messy at best but it proved successful, more so considering Bunny Chow has made itself a popular Durban fast food today. Initially, the dish was vegetarian with beans being a main component of the curry. Now, mutton curry seems to be the fan-favourite!
If you, like us, are wondering where the name itself came from, know that it was coined for a dish that seems to be a mere loaf of bread filled with curry. Madhur Jaffery in her book ‘Madhur Jaffery’s Ultimate Curry Bible’ states it all came down to the local store owners. Coined ‘baniyas’, the term was bastardised until it got to what we hear today — bunny. As for the second half, ‘chow’ is simply slang for food; thereby roughly translating the term to ‘baniya food’. It may not be the only explanation out there, but there certainly is something to it.
Understandably, this article has made you curious about Bunny Chow. You’d be pleased to know, among the variety of dining experiences Mumbai has on offer, Bunny Chow is surprisingly one of them! If you’re down for a messy meal that’ll be worth every bit of effort to eat, head to Mumbai Vibe or NRI - Not Really Indian for a taste. Maybe skip the white shirt though, just in case.
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Featured illustration by Karan Kumar