Let me introduce you to a culinary speciality of Durban, South Africa. The Bunny Chow.
Let me assure you, it contains no rabbit in it whatsoever! It’s a hollowed out, half-loaf of bread filled with curried meats or vegetables. I tried a lamb bunny chow, but other popular options are butter chicken bunny chow, vegetarian, or bean bunny. The meat is tenderised by the curry and the cooking process, and is extremely soft and juicy.
This is quite a spicy dish, so it isn’t suitable for people with sensitive palettes, but you can ask for a mild or hot version. To help with the heat, the dish is served with yogurt, sambles (grated tomato, carrot, and onion), and coriander. A glass of milk can also quickly cool you down if the burn gets too bad. If you are brave, and like hot food, you can ask for extra chilli, but be careful- you will get finely chopped “devil chilli”.
The bunny chows at Unity are the gourmet version. Traditionally a bunny chow was working class food, eaten by the cane cutters brought in from India to work on the sugar cane farms. The hollowed out loaf was a very practical lunch box, and an acceptable alternative to naan bread or roti. The process of making curry allows for cheaper cuts or lower quality meat to be used. While most bunny chows in Durban, including the ‘famous’ Gouden’s and ‘Sunrise Chip & Ranch’ still follow this principle of cheap cuts, on the bone, the Unity Bunny chows uses high quality vegetables and free range, organic meats. You can taste the difference.
The bunny chow is a uniquely Durban fast food, but is now available in restaurants in London, New York, Several cities in Australia, and even Israel.
Durban is a culturally rich city, and the curries you find are a strong reflection of this. While there are distinct Indian, Pakistani, Tai, Ethiopian, and Middle Eastern curry restaurants in Durban, some curries, like the lamb curry from Unity, could be said to be a blend of middle eastern and eastern flavours, which many would consider to be a “Durban” curry. The Unity butter chicken bunny chow would be more likely to be considered a north Indian curry.
Another dish, perhaps the signature dish of the restaurant, are the deep fried olives. A perfect snack with a craft beer, the olives are stuffed, crumbed, deep fried, and served with Chef Marcelle’s coriander mayonnaise. The olives explode with salty, bitter flavour, and if you’re sharing with friends, be prepared- you’ll want to order seconds and thirds.
Unity is the second restaurant of husband and wife team, Marcelle and Sean Roberts. Their first restaurant, Cafe 1999 is a fine dining ‘experience’, which is extremely popular, and usually requires booking in advance. Unity is more relaxed, and allows for drop ins, and take-aways, and has resulted in the development of their range of craft beers, which are gaining regard for their quality and flavour.
While the food and drinks at Unity reflect an appreciation of high quality, responsibly sourced produce, the quality of the service still truly stands out. The knowledge of the staff about the food, preparation techniques, and the ideal pairings with wine or cocktails is exceptional. Many people we spoke to believe the service is the best in Durban, and at the time of writing the article, we agree.
If you find yourself in Durban, you should definitely try a bunny chow, but if you only have time to try one, you should probably go to Unity Brasserie and Bar.
Words: Eva Gosciniak & William du Plooy
Photos: William du Plooy