Durban’s Iconic Street Food Bursts with Indian Ingenuity—and Curry

The unconventional story of bunny chow.  
Bunny Chow South Africa
The bunny may look intimidating at first, but it’s hard not to finish once you start eating it. Photo: AWL RM/IndiaPicture

Wherever an Indian goes, curry must follow. It’s a cliché we’ve never been able to shake off— mostly because it’s true. Indians first set sail for South Africa around 150 years ago. Some sought to make a new life in a new country. Others were labourers, brought to work on sugarcane plantations. With strenuous shifts in fields far from home and the apartheid system that forbade coloured people from dining with white folk, Indians often found themselves resigned to hasty lunches on the move. The craving for a traditional lunch was sated by rather unconventional means. As the story goes, sometime in the mid-1940s, an ingenious Indian in Durban dreamed up the idea of selling plantation workers hot lentil and bean curries stuffed into a hollowed-out quarter loaf of bread. They would pick them up at lunch time and walk back to work, lapping up the curry with bread broken off the sides. The creator was apparently a bania, and the Zulu natives called his creation “bunny chow”. Now known simply as a “bunny”, the tingly gravy loaf is ubiquitous on Durban’s streets.

In contrast to its curry-in-a-hurry origins, the bunny of today is more of a sit-down affair. It’s customary to order a cold beverage (beer works rather well) along with it, for little reason other than to put out the fire on your tongue. All three variants (vegetarian, chicken, or mutton) are spicy in the extreme, but so flavourful that the next bite (after a quick swig of something) is unavoidable. The hollow quarter-loaf, generously filled with meat chunks (or beans) and curry, is served with a few strips of bread to get you started. That’s followed by the delightfully messy effort of breaking bits off the side and and working your way to the bottom. Forks and spoons are available at most establishments, but it’s much more fun to eat with your hands. Although a quarter bunny (priced between ₹150-400) is filling enough to satisfy an average-sized human being, the particularly gluttonous can order half and full loaves as well.

Durban South Africa Bunny Chow

To order a bunny, simply say the word “quarter”, followed by your choice of curry. Photo: Stuwdamdorp/Alamy/IndiaPicture

From beachfront shacks and casinos to posh hotels, the bunny is on almost every menu in Durban. Locals will tell you that Britannia hotel, a hole-in-the-wall that is now a local landmark on Umgeni Road, is the city’s most popular bunny chow haunt. Which one’s the best? That’s a tough call. The rule of thumb that bunny aficionados swear by is that if the joint looks seedy and has an Indian name, the curry is probably spectacular.

Appeared in the March 2013 issue as “Show me the Bunny”.

  • Azeem Banatwalla is a stand-up comic and humour writer. He can often be spotted scrounging for plug-points in coffee shops, or wandering sleepily through airports across the country.

Psst. Want a weekly dose of travel inspiration in your inbox?