Bunny Chow

In my recent trek through South Africa, I was in general not too wowed by the food scene. Every meal from breakfast to dinner is served with french fries (def not complaining, but not exactly exotic) and many meals are anchored by a dry, mealy porridge-like substance called pap (I tried to provide you with a pic of this, but learned that google image searching for the word ‘pap’ is not a good idea.)

There is however, one original South African dish that is a must-eat:  bunny chow. A specialty of street vendors in Durban, a port city with a huge Indian population, bunny chow is a straight-forward but utterly genuis creation. The insides of a loaf of bread are removed and replaced with spicy veggie curries, and less frequently, lamb or chicken curry. When I first heard about this dish I thought they meant something like a bread roll, but no, they are not kidding around; it’s an entire loaf of sandwich bread filled to the brim.  The pic above (not mine) is a half order. The best part is once the curry is gone, the remaining bread crust is soaked full of tasty curry spices.

Bunny chow is so popular in SA that it is even the title of an upcoming movie from the country’s MTV division, which looks pretty amazing so here’s hoping it will be released in the states.

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  • DCJosh June 29, 2007  

    I can’t believe I never had a bunny chow, I don’t think I saw that in Cape Town, it was mostly boorsvorst vendors. While I wasn’t a huge fan of pap when I was there, I did enjoy the samp and still ate the pap quite a bit. While still corn meal, the samp was course and had a mix of finely ground and coarsely ground corn (even some kernels still in). It had a lot more flavor.

    I actually did get very into the SA cousine. I lived in Mowbry, a residential suburb-ish part of Cape Town near the University. On Main, about a block away, there was this amazing little 6-top joint owned and operated by a woman and her husband. Or maybe he did the owning part and she did the operating, because she was the only one I noticed ever working. We’d go every wednesday or thursday night (I lived in a house with 8 other yankees) and they would push a few tables together for us. She would then go across the street to the supermarket to buy wine, beer, and food for us. Then she’d come talk to us for a bit, take our orders (more on that in a second), put the boose behind the bar so her husband could serve us, and disappear into the kitchen. An hour and a half later she’d re-appear with our food.

    The menu was pretty simple. Oxtail soup was the only starter. Occassionally there would also be fried squid, but it was not regular. There was essentially one dish with a few different options. Three meat options: oxtail, beef, chicken. Pap or samp (or half of each, if you were like most of us). Then a choice of three sides, usually from about a list of 6 things: some sort of creamed spinach, a few different chutneys, something resembling baked beans, and a few other things that escape me now. I always just told her to give me whatever she thought best.

    Before she brought the food out though, she’d come around with a big bowl, a towel on her arm, and a pitcher of warm soapy water. She’d come around to each of us (men first, sadly) and stand next to you while she poured the water over your hands while you briefly scrubbed over the big bowl, then you’d towel off and she’d go to the next most important looking man (always started with the head of the table), and then to the women. That was bizarre, but a nice touch to get your hands washed. That became important when we realized we’d be eating with our hands.

    Pinch of pap or samp, sorta ball it up (but more of a pinch), and grab something else on your plate that actually has some flavor. The meat was cut into strips and cooked in a sauce that was pretty tasty (each meat had a diff. sauce). And in a very UN-American way, the portions of meat were small, it was more of another side dish than the main attraction. The main attraction was definitely the startch: the pap or the samp. Took up well over half your plate. And it was economical, use the cheap stuff as the base, the filler; use the expensive stuff to add flavor.

    It was always a fun meal, and always a three hour affair. They came to love us there, and on our last trip they went all out, served us ostrich fillets (they learned their English from the Brits so they pronounce the ‘T’ in fillets, it’s weird)! Ostrich meat is divine, I highly recommend trying it if you ever have the chance.

    Wish I could remember the name of the place, and I wonder if it’s still open. I’ll let you know in 2010, after I get back from the World Cup.

  • BS June 29, 2007  

    mmm…I have to agree on the ostrich – pretty great and way underused on this continent

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  • rebel_za June 9, 2009  

    I think that you were in the wrong part of South Africa, Yes Bunny Chow is good but you definitely did not had ” Braai vleis & Rooster broodjies, or Mushroom braai with Aartappel brood, or bobotie and yellow rice or and this can carry on forever, definitely nothing wrong with the SA Food scene you just did not meet the right poeple to show you around !!
    And there is a few places were you can eat an ostrich fillet !!

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