In Mark Damon Puckett's continuing quest to explain delightful foods with strange names — he has already tackled oddly named British dishes: Scotch egg, the Cornish Pasty, Toad in the Hole, Bubble and Squeak, and Spotted Dick — Puckett has moved onto South Africa’s bunny chow.
Bunny Chow? I couldn’t believe it when I heard it either. After falling in love with the names of Delightful British Foods with Strange Names, I continued on my search for something to rival these culinary eccentrics. World-traveling chef Bruce Venter, who is one of Royal Caribbean’s chefs de cuisine, introduced me to bunny chow, the peculiar sounding dish from his home in South Africa.
Bunny chow (or simply "bunny" to locals) is a street food hunger-buster and a favorite of surfers made of Durban curry, lamb or mutton usually, stuffed into a quarter, half, or full loaf of unsliced white bread with a hollowed-out middle. Chicken and beans are now used as well. Not only does Durban have beach town origins, it also contains the highest population of Indians in South Africa. Hence, an Indian curry became merged with the traditional Western loaf.
Accompanied by a sambal of finely chopped iceburg lettuce, onion, grated carrot, and coriander (cilantro) on the side, as well as an Indian yogurt-based spiced raita, bunny chow should only be eaten with your hands. Try to use the bread as a knife and fork, breaking the bread to mop the curry.
You want to finish your bread and curry at the same time, because the sides of the bread sop up the curry yielding multiple flavors. In essence, the bread soaks up the gravy, all taken in one bite, with the tender spiciness of the lamb and the softness of the bread melting together.
"Curry with bread is better than curry and rice," said Venter. "It’s a taste of home. When you eat it, you feel like sitting back on a Durban beach, watching waves."
Bunny chow is a street food beloved by surfers in South Africa. Photo credit: Bruce Venter
And that’s how many locals, particularly surfers, enjoy it. Bunny chow has also developed a bit of a cult following these days.
"Nobody knows really when and where bunny chow was born. All I know is that in my shop it is enjoyed by tourists, locals, truckers, chefs, no matter who you are. If you are a 'Durbanite,' you love your bunnies," said Sandy, the owner of Sandy’s Pot & Grill takeaway in Durban North.
Mark Damon Puckett has written for Saveur and Greenwich Magazine. He is the author of The Reclusives, YOU with The Ill-usives, and The Killer Detective Novelist (October 2012), all available on amazon.com and bn.com. Please visit him at www.markdamonpuckett.com.
Chef Bruce Venter contributed to the content of this article and took the accompanying photos. Venter is South African and incorporates his love for international travel and food by working for Royal Caribbean as one of their chef de cuisines, traveling the globe cooking. He has worked in many top hotels and restaurants on two continents and has cooked for royalty, stars, and heads of state.