At Kaia, your bunny chow comes with a full range of chutneys and other condiments.
It sounds really playful, doesn’t it? But the South African specialty of bunny chow has some darker underpinnings. A specialty of the city of Durban, and specifically of the ethnically Indian population there, it consists of a Pullman loaf of white bread hollowed out with curry poured inside. Originally, the dish was vegetarian.
I recently stumbled across it at Kaia, a year-old Upper East Side wine bar and the subject of this week’s Counter Culture review. There, the dish is made with an agreeable chicken curry, and served with little piles of condiments on the side. It’s notably delicious, though eating it is something of a challenge. You’re really better off ignoring your knife and fork.
Bunny chow was invented sometime in the 1940s, and the city of Durban is so proud of it, a yearly contest to see who makes the best is staged, called the Bunny Chow Barometer.
It’s certain that the dish originated with Banias, a name often given to an Indian South African caste. Obviously, the loaf of bread represents the fusion of Indian fare and English.
Of the many stories concerning its origin, the most interesting one is that, as a restricted class under apartheid, Indians were refused admission to restaurants in many areas of Durban because they were classified as “coloreds.” Smart restauranteurs and snack-shop operators still wanted the commerce that the Indians represented, but were legally not permitted to serve them. Accordingly, bunny chow was invented — a carryout dish that could surreptitiously be passed out of an open window and consumed furtively.
Another story suggests that it’s simply a cabbie snack, packaged for easy eating.
The chicken curry dampens the bread’s crumb, and makes it irresistible.
Kaia Wine Bar
1614 Third Avenue