A loaf of soft white bread, resembling Wonder Bread, is one of the blandest foods on Earth. But hollow it out and fill it with mutton curry, and it becomes something transcendent. The result is bunny chow, one of South Africa’s favorite street foods.
Bunny chow, called a bunny for short, originated in the large Indian community of Durban, on the eastern coast of South Africa. Although various origin stories exist, they all have one thing in common: White bread was the only bread available with which Indian immigrants could eat their curries. Some say that members of an Indian caste known as banias initially served the dish in restaurants, hence the name bunny chow. But another story goes that laborers actually invented it while trying to transport their curries for lunch.
Whichever story you believe, it’s clear that the dish dates back as far as the mid-20th century. It gained popularity—or at least became tragically practical—during the apartheid era. At a time when both Indian and black South Africans were barred from many establishments, bunny chow was a portable lunch. Black South Africans tend to refer to the snack as a kota, which refers to the quarter loaf of bread that it’s commonly made with.
Bunny chow can be made with mutton curry, chicken curry, or a vegetarian bean sauce, and it has more positive associations now. In Durban, simply ordering a “quarter mutton” is sufficient for restaurants to understand that you would like a quarter loaf filled with mutton curry. After the interior of the loaf has been scooped out and filled with curry, the hunk of removed bread is used for dipping. Often wrapped in newspaper, a quarter bunny chow is an inexpensive and filling lunch option—a curry on the go.