The funny thing about bunny chow is that it is hardly rabbit food. Also, it does not contain bunny. Instead, it is an ingenious South African fast food consisting of a hollowed-out hunk of bread filled with curry, and topped with the scooped-out bread innards and chutney. It bears some resemblance to the dreaded American bread bowl. You can find this delightful gutbomb at the new South African restaurant on the Lower East Side called, appropriately, Bunny Chow.
It’s unclear exactly how bunny chow got its name, but it was invented by people of Indian origin living in Durban, South Africa. One story goes that a curry house run by Banias (a certain caste) came up with it so that they could serve their stews to-go to people who were excluded from entering the restaurant under apartheid. Another version claims that Indian laborers invented it as a way to pack their lunches to eat in the fields. In any event, it is now so popular that a 2006 South African movie was named after the dish.
One website, straightforwardly titled Facts About Durban, notes that the scooped-out bread that’s placed on top is called “the virgin.” It also instructs how to talk to your South African friends about bunny chow without sounding like a neophyte:
The use of the word Chow will indelibly mark you as an outsider, and a pretty uncool one at that. When talking to friends it would be quite correct to suggest ‘Let’s go get us some Bunnies’. You could say to your host, taxi driver, tour guide or concierge ‘I’m really desperate for a Bunny’, ‘I need a Bunny’, ‘Show me the nearest Bunny’, or ask ‘who makes the best Bunny in town?’
Well, the bunny at Bunny Chow is a tasty thing, made with crusty bread that holds up under the weight of the lamb curry inside (you can also choose shrimp or chicken). The cumin-laced stew is made with bone-in lamb chunks and hunks of potato. A bit of mango chutney sits on top of the “virgin.” Just go in and say, “I’m really desperate for a bunny.”
74 Orchard Street