Eatery uses its loaf for curry in a hurry

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2012, 12:00am


No fluffy animals are harmed in the making of bunny chow, the South African speciality of a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry.

It is generally accepted that the meal was created in Durban, which has a large migrant Indian population. The most common story about its origins points to a restaurant named G.C. Kapitan's Vegetarian Eating House, which was opened by Ganda Chagan Kapitan in 1912. The dish dates to the late 1940s, when South Africa first came under the apartheid regime and racial segregation became institutionalised.

One law stated that individuals who were classified as black were not allowed to enter restaurants in white areas. To serve those who were banned, Kapitan's opened a counter at the back for takeaways. This being the time before takeaway containers existed, the staff made the meals portable by putting them in a hollowed-out loaf of bread.

(History doesn't record whether the restaurant owners were acting from a revulsion against apartheid or just didn't want to lose the business of black customers.)

According to the story, Kapitan's was run by a family who were part of a predominantly vegetarian Indian caste named Bania, and this new dish became known as 'Bania chow' and, eventually, bunny chow.

Another version suggests that Kapitan's invented it for workers (some point specifically to the caddies at the Royal Durban Golf Club), as they didn't have enough time to eat at the restaurant and needed to take the curry to work with them. Roti is a traditional bread accompaniment to curries, but wrapping curry up in roti was prone to too much leakage.

While it's assumed that 'chow' is simply slang for 'food', some say it comes from the Hindi word 'achar', which is an accompaniment to a curry, such as pickles. As bunny chow is served with a side salad of pickled carrot, onion and chillis, some say that the name came from 'bun achar' - a bread bun with achar on the side.

The original bunny chow is said to have been made with vegetarian curry, although nowadays mutton or chicken curries are popular, just never rabbit.