The Story Behind Durban’s Best Bunny Chow

Prenolan Naidoo is the head chef at Jeera
Prenolan Naidoo is the head chef at Jeera | © Siyabonga Mkhasibe
Photo of Josephine Platt
Global Travel Writer25 February 2020

Food is what sets a city apart. Chicago is known for its deep-dish pizza, Bruges for its waffles and Durban, in South Africa, for its bunny chow. A hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry, bunny chow is big on flavour and sustenance. Culture Trip gets the scoop on this South African dish from the tastiest in town.

Jeera is celebrated for its take on the famous bunny chow | © Siyabonga Mkhasibe

Where bunny chow originated is a mystery unsolved. There are many theories about how it might have come about, with a date in flux between the 1860s and 1940s.

Chef Prenolan Naidoo of Durban’s award-winning Jeera restaurant has his take on it. “Many years ago when the Indians started coming to work in Durban as cane cutters, bunny chow was created as an easy and economical solution to food,” he says.

Left: Chef Prenolan Naidoo shows off his award-winning dish | Right: Jeera is located at Suncoast Towers | © Siyabonga Mkhasibe
Jeera has its own theory on bunny chow’s origins | © Siyabonga Mkhasibe

“Instead of sending men to the fields with separate containers – and to save money as their wages weren’t as they should have been – the workers’ wives came up with a new concoction. It included a cheap quarter loaf of white bread, which was hollowed out and filled with curry, and then wrapped up in a bit of paper,” says Naidoo.

While bunny chow’s origins remain unclear, one thing is not – its name, which is an amalgamation of ‘bania’, the caste of Indian businessmen who sold the curry, and ‘chow’, which is, of course, slang for food.

Bunny chow is an indulgent and famous Durban dish | © Siyabonga Mkhasibe

In 2020, another thing is certain about bunny chow – it’s a dish that Durbanites are proud to cook and call a classic. Durban-born and of Indian heritage, Naidoo honed his craft working in a French restaurant in the UK.

Spice is an essential component to Jeera’s bunny chow | © Siyabonga Mkhasibe
Bunny chow is coloured with a variety of Indian spices | © Siyabonga Mkhasibe

Having spent five years in training, Naidoo went on to work in Korea, Australia and Germany. He knows his way around food pairings, which he translates to the bunny chow at Jeera. “With all Indian cuisine, the condiments are very important, and this goes for the bunny chow,” he says. “We have a variety of condiments, including beetroot ryvita, pickled figs, carrot and cucumber salad, and vegetables that have been pickled in vinegar and marinated in a masala spice to give them that authentic Durban flavour.” And the perfect complement? Coca-Cola.

Jeera’s chef Prenolan Naidoo trained in the UK before travelling the globe to work | © Siyabonga Mkhasibe

Naidoo explains that bunny chow is actually quite a simple formula. “There are two important components to bunny chow: a good quality curry that’s going to go into the bread, and the bread itself.” But what makes Jeera’s formula such a hit? “Our secret is in our gravy. It’s out of this world. Plus, our portioning is generous and above the industry norm, and our pricing is in keeping with what the industry is but for what the guests get. Jeera is 10 steps ahead.”

Jeera’s bunny chow is a must-try when visiting Durban | © Siyabonga Mkhasibe

Though Naidoo’s team might hold the official award for the top taste factor in the city, he still thinks his mum’s cooking is the best in the world.

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