Want a meal that's as portable as it is delicious? Try bunny chow, a delicious South African speciality with the unusual name.

What is it?

Put simply, this Durban delicacy consists of a rich Indian curry served in a hollowed out loaf of bread. Wondering about the intriguing name? Immigrant Indian plantation workers in Durban were often banned from cafes during South Africa’s apartheid era, so the community created bunny chow in the late 1940s as a way for the workers to carry their meals into the fields with them (necessity is the mother of invention). It’s believed that the name derives from the city’s banyan trees, under which the vendors used to sit to sell their portable bread-loaf curries in the shade. One thing is for certain, it’s one heck of a meal.

Ingredients (serves 2)

½ cup oil 
1 onion, chopped 
1 star anise 
1 cinnamon stick 
3 whole cardamom pods 
½ tsp fennel seeds 
½ tsp cumin seed 
3 tbs garam masala 
2 tsp turmeric 
1 tsp ground coriander 
1 tsp cayenne pepper 
2 medium tomatoes, chopped 
1kg (2lb) lamb or beef, cut into 2.5cm (1in) cubes 
6 curry leaves 
2 teaspoons ground ginger 
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped 
2 large potatoes, cut into 2.5cm (1in) cubes 
1 small loaf white bread (unsliced)

This rich curry calls for a lot of spices © Jonathon Stokes / Lonely Planet

How to cook

Step 1: Heat the oil in a pan before frying up the onion with the star anise, cinnamon, cardamom pods, fennel seeds and cumin seeds. 
Step 2: When the onion is soft and glassy, stir in the garam masala, turmeric, ground coriander and cayenne pepper. After a few minutes add the tomatoes, continuing to stir.
Step 3: Add the meat, curry leaves, ground ginger and garlic. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, adding a little water if it gets too dry.
Step 4: When the meat is almost tender, add the potatoes. Continue to simmer until the potatoes are cooked through. 
Step 5: Meanwhile, put the bread loaf on its side and cut it in half. Using a sharp knife, remove most of the soft white bread centres from each section, being careful to leave thick walls and a bottom on each.
Step 6: Ladle the finished curry into the bread bowls, and place the section of bread you removed atop the filled hollow.

An aerial view of the beach near Durban, South Africa, where people are playing in the waves. In the background, some of the city's skyscrapers are visible.
Transport yourself to sunny Durban by cooking up some bunny chow © Diriye Amey / 500px

Tasting notes

Eating bunny chow, or “bunnies” as they are affectionately known, is as much about the experience as the meal itself. Utensils are not used – it is a hands-on affair. The piece of bread that comes atop your serving, which was removed to make way for the steaming curry of your choice, is your best tool to help you extricate the savoury dish. And as you work your way down the bread bowl, its saturated self is also up for grabs. Whether you’ve bought your bunny chow streetside or made it at home, spare a moment to remember what necessitated its creation.

For additional recipes, check our Travel Kitchen page.

Have you recreated any of the dishes featured in this series so far? Share your pictures with us on Twitter and Instagram by tagging @lonelyplanet. For more great recipes, check out Lonely Planet’s book The World’s Best Street Food.

This article was originally published in April 2020 and updated in September 2020. Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.

This article was first published April 2020 and updated September 2020

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