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What Is Bunny Chow?

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  • Written By: B. Chisholm
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2016
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Bunny chow is a South African fast food which originated in the city of Durban, on the KwaZulu Natal coast, but is now found throughout the country. It is made up of a hollowed-out loaf of white bread filled with curry and usually eaten with the hands only. The curry used ranges from vegetable to meat and mild to very hot, depending on the vendor. Durban is known for hot curries.

While the exact origin of bunny chow is not known, it is thought that golf caddies from the Royal Durban Golf Club didn't have a long enough lunch break to sit and eat a meal. Instead they would get their curry put into a half-loaf of bread which allowed easy transport in the days before take-away containers and cutlery. The scooped out bread, referred to as the "virgin" is used initially to mop up the curry and then, as the level drops, pieces of crust are torn off the loaf and used as a utensil.

Durban has a large Indian population, the largest one living outside India in fact. They are descended from migrant laborers from colonial India who settled in KwaZulu Natal during the late 1800's and early part of the 20th century. With them they brought their spicy and tasty Indian cuisine, the mainstay of which is curry. Curry, and its offshoot, bunny chow, has since become one of the defining dishes of Durban.

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There is, as with any traditional dish, a certain etiquette involved in both ordering and eating bunny chow. Locals refer to the bunny chow just as bunnies, leaving off the chow. When ordering, they are usually ordered using a simple shortening, such as "half lamb," which refers to a half loaf filled with lamb. A "funny bunny" refers to one which is made from the middle section of the loaf and these need to be carefully handled as the curry is not held in at the end.

The "virgin," or bread from the inside, is also subject to etiquette - it is considered very poor manners to eat somebody else's without prior permission. The curry in the bunny chow is usually made to be saucy, allowing the juices to soak into the bread. Some vendors add sambals to their bunny chow, although this was not originally done. Sambals are accompaniments such as tomato salsa, cucumber, coconut, banana or peanuts. Chutney may also be added.

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