Durban is not renowned for being a seat of culinary invention but we have made at least one major contribution to world cuisine in the shape of the Bunny Chow. The Bunny Chow is a very simple affair consisting of a hollowed-out quarter, half or full loaf of bread filled with any available curry including beef, mutton, chicken or beans. The Bunny Chow should be freshly made out of mature curry and the piece of bread, or virgin, which was removed to make room for the curry should be placed on top of the Bunny before it is wrapped. Some chefs add sambals to their Bunnies but many feel that this is an unnecessary elaboration.
The exact origins of the Bunny Chow are shrouded in myth and legend but one school of thought has it that it was invented by a chef at the Queen’s Tavern.
Another theory is that it was invented for the Indian caddies at the Royal Durban Golf Course who were unable to get off from work for long enough to nip into Grey Street for a curry at lunchtime. The story goes that they got their friends to go and buy the curry for them and that it was brought back to the golf course in hollowed-out loaves of bread because there were no disposable food containers at the time. The explanation that Bunnies were first made in Grey Street does hold a bit of water because the shopkeepers there were known as banias and therefore, the phrase Bunny Chow could mean food from the shopkeepers. If the origin of the Bunny was in Grey Street, then a prime candidate for the place where it was invented is the G.C. Kapitan Vegetarian Restaurant which operated at 154 Grey Street between 1912 and 1992. Whether the bunny was invented there or not, G.C. Kapitan’s beans bunny was famous and enjoyed by ordinary people and such luminaries as Indira Gandhi.
Whatever the truth, however, the Bunny Chow has earned itself an enduring place in the affections of Durbanites and there are many of us who couldn’t exist for very long without them.
The correct way to refer to Bunny Chows when talking about them or asking for directions to the nearest purveyor is as Bunnies. The use of the word Chow will indelibly mark you as an outsider, and a pretty uncool one at that. When talking to friends it would be quite correct to suggest ‘Let’s go get us some Bunnies’. You could say to your host, taxi driver, tour guide or concierge ‘I’m really desperate for a Bunny’, ‘I need a Bunny’, ‘Show me the nearest Bunny’, or ask ‘who makes the best Bunny in town?’
Bunnies are mostly made with quarter-loaves of bread but you can ask for a half or full loaf if you’re very hungry. There is a taboo when it comes to ordering a Bunny and that is that you can’t mention the word Bunny. You should ask for the Bunny you want based on its size and the curry it is to contain as in: Gimme a quarter beef! They’ll know what you mean.
The Bunny Chow should always be eaten with the fingers starting with the lump of bread, or virgin, on top. Aficionados treat the virgin as an appetizer for the main course and it is considered very bad form to seize and eat someone else’s virgin without their express invitation. You should then help yourself to the curry and tear pieces off of the side of the loaf and dip them in the gravy. The trick here is to avoid tearing off pieces of loaf which are below the current gravy line otherwise you end up with a steaming-hot mass in your lap. For much the same reason you should check whether your Bunny Chow was made from the end of a loaf or whether it is a Funny Bunny made from the middle and, hence, without a crust at the bottom. A Funny Bunny isn’t any less tasty but you do have to be careful to support the base in case it gives way and gives onlookers something to laugh about; you begin to see how it got its name?
While eating your Bunny you may sweat and blow your nose often, Say “Whooee!! We’d better put some toilet paper in the fridge for tomorrow morning” , drink beer, a soft drink or milk and throw your mutton bones, if applicable, at passing yachts, if available. You may not betray that you’re in pain if the Bunny is too hot for your taste. Just relax and think of those nice endorphins you’re going to get when your brain finally gets into gear. Steer clear of the gravy if you are in real difficulties as experience has shown that it is the hottest part of the curry. Stick to the meat and, after a decent interval, scrunch up your Bunny in its wrapping and fling it quickly into a bin saying, “Damn, but I could eat two more of those.”