By Wanda Hennig
Photography by Lara Hata
The next time you want to serve a meal that is easy to prepare, needs no utensils and requires a lick of the fingers for cleanup, you might consider bunny chow. And no, this does not involve carving up and cooking Bugs, Roger or any other rabbit. In fact, in its original form, it’s about beans.
Bunny chow originated in Durban, South Africa. I first experienced it as breakfast takeout. Some of us neighborhood kids would grab our rods and head for the docks early on Sunday mornings to fish. At some point, we’d go to the grubby little harbor cafe and order “a bunny” through the serving hatch. We’d get half a loaf of soft white bread filled with a lethal bean curry that made your eyes water. The bread removed from inside the half loaf was put, like a lid, atop the curry and used to sop up the sauce.
Though nobody is sure of the origins of the name, it is understood that bunny chow was invented by Indian cafe owners and restaurateurs in the days before disposable plates and bowls. The unusual and substantial dish originated partly as a fast food for people who wanted to eat on the fly and, less agreeably, in response to apartheid-era restrictions on who could sit where and in what restaurants.
As things changed and progressed in South Africa, so did bunny chow. Upscale restaurants began to offer it—with chicken, mutton, seafood or vegetable curry replacing the standard bean. And the option of using home-cooked or takeout curry plus a bread of choice made bunny chow a winner for casual dinner parties. I prepare the dish with chicken curry from Sabine Indian Cuisine (1628 Webster St., 510-268-0170) and bread from Arizmendi Bakery (3265 Lakeshore Ave., 510-268-8849).