Bunny Chow: A Hearty Curry Recipe, Out of South Africa

Mj 618_348_curry south african style durbans bunny chow
Chef Elizabeth Binder & Natalie Syverson Photography

Durban, South Africa, is one of those rare cities with a unique and delicious street food that’s worthy of a meal. Just as Montreal is famed for its tasty and high calorie poutine, and Cincinnati has its mystifyingly popular Cincinnati Chili, Durban has its Bunny Chow.

A bunny chow, usually called a bunny, is a hollowed-out square loaf of freshly baked bread filled with a rich and spicy curry, often served with a side of chopped carrot sambals. The most popular rendition is a quarter loaf of bread filled with lamb curry known as “kota mutton.” Other renditions include chicken, vegetables, or beans. The bunny curries vary in taste from vendor to vendor. If you find the right cook, it might be some of the best curry on the planet (not surprising as Durban has the largest Indian population outside of India.)

Eating a bunny takes some practice — it’s a messy dish, and the drippy, turmeric gravy stains yellow anything it touches. Consider your yellow-stained fingers a badge of honor. If you can’t make it to South Africa, this recipe from South African chef Elizabeth Binder will make you think you’re at a tuck shop on Durban’s Golden Mile beachfront.

Lamb Shoulder Bunny Curry
Serves: 4 extremely generous portions

1/4 cup sunflower oil
2 lb. lamb shoulder, cut into large chunks
2 sprigs curry leaves, strip leaves off stalk
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp chili powder
4 fresh tomatoes, rough chop
4 yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 loaf fresh bread

Heat a little of the oil in a heavy bottomed pot. Season the lamb cubes generously with salt. Sear in the pot until golden brown. Do this in batches so as not to overwhelm the pot. Remove meat and set aside.

Add remaining oil to the pot, add washed curry leaves and gently fry to release the aroma. Almost immediately add the diced onions and cook until soft and lightly golden brown. Do this over a low heat with a lid, stirring often.

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Once onions are soft and golden, add the ginger-garlic paste and stir to incorporate. Add the can of tomatoes and replace the lid. Gently simmer for a couple minutes to bring the onions and tomato together. Add ground cumin, coriander, then the turmeric and curry and chili powders. Replace the lid and cook spices on low for a couple minutes. Add lamb, diced fresh tomato and about two cups of water. Replace lid and cook over a low heat until lamb is tender, about 2 – 2 1/2 hours. Add potatoes and gently simmer for an additional 20 to 30 minutes until they are cooked. Add some fresh chopped cilantro.

Cut loaf into four quarters. Hollow out each by scooping out the soft inner bread leaving a bottom. Spoon curry into hollowed bread and place scooped inner bread on top. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

Serve the bunny alongside a beetroot or carrot salad, mint and yoghurt raita or mango chutney.

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