Bunny Chow sounds so interesting, doesn’t it? It definitely makes you wonder what the name means. Is it made for bunnies, or from bunnies? Well, Bunny Chow isn’t really connected to rabbits in any way. The ‘Bunny’ here refers to baniyas, indentured Indian workers who were transported to South Africa for working on sugar cane plantations circa 1860s.
The baniyas are a caste of Indian people who are vegetarian, so Bunny Chow is essentially a vegetarian dish. As the legend goes, I am calling it a legend because it is an old story which has probably been embellished over the years, the baniyas, Gujratis and many types of Indian immigrants were not allowed entry into restaurants and establishments that served white people. Apartheid of this kind was common in South Africa, and even in British India where Indians could not enter clubs etc. that were meant for the ruling British. If you have seen the movie A Passage to India based on E. M. Forster’s book, recall the scene where the ladies are having tea at their club and hundreds of local people including maharajas and maharanis (kings and queens) are standing outside waiting to meet them.
So anyway, to continue with our story, the Indian immigrants had a diet of roti and beans, but this could not be packed or carried around easily, especially without utensils of any kind.
Bunny Chow was devised as a curry that could be ladled into hollowed out bread, packed into newspaper and served to the laborers at the back door.
The workers sat in the field to eat and tore off pieces of the bread and dipped it into the curry as they ate.
Bunny Chow is a must try when you visit Durban. The modern versions are made with chicken or lamb too, but the vegetarian version with chickpeas or local beans is also popular. Bunny Chow is served with a carrot salad or sambal. Depending on the size of the dish, Bunny Chow can be ordered as quarter or half.
Madras Curry Powder features prominently in this recipe, and indeed, this spice mix that is heavily exported from India is what made ‘curry’ famous.
Although Indians call several different combinations of spices and sauces a curry, curry powder based dishes are very popular too and a great way to initiate someone to the flavors of India.
Curry powder is so common nowadays that even McCormick makes one. This means that you can easily find this in the smallest grocery store. Or you can order several different brands of curry powder online.
You will need an unsliced loaf of bread for serving the bunny chow. I made a special request to my local bakery guy and he readily agreed to set aside a few loaves of uncut bread for me.
So lets get started with the Bunny Chow recipe. You can add more spice as you get used to the flavor. This dish is so easy to make, and so tasty, I am sure you will be making it again and again.
Bunny Chow Recipe
- 2 cups boiled cubed potatoes
- 2.5 cups chickpeas
- 1/2 cup chopped carrots
- 1 cup chopped onions
- ½ cup tomato puree
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 Tbsp curry powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 Tbsp oil
- salt to taste
- 1 whole loaf of bread
- Boil, peel and chop potatoes into medium chunks.
- Rinse and drain chickpeas if using canned ones. Otherwise, soak overnight and cook in a pressure cooker.
- Chop onions and carrots.
- Heat oil in a wok or sauce pan and add the onion.
- Fry onion until slightly pink.
- Add the chopped carrots and fry for a minute.
- Add the chopped tomatoes or tomato puree.
- Add the cayenne pepper, garlic powder and curry powder.
- Mix well and avoid burning. Add a cup or two of water.
- Add the tomato puree and salt and sugar and bring to a boil.
- Simmer the mixture until sauce is thickened - the curry powder will help thicken it.
- The curry mixture should have a thick sauce like a stew.
- Cut the loaf of bread in half.
- Halve out the inside of the bread to make a hole or container like a soup bowl.
- The halved out loaf should stand on its own and have a solid base.
- Add the curry to the loaf, just as you would ladle soup into a soup bowl.
- Serve hot.