Bunny Chow – Durban Curry Meets the Israeli

Bunny Chow – Durban Curry Meets the Israeli
"A new, tiny, hip South African street food stall in the heart of Shuk Hacarmel. Fresh ingredients sourced daily from the shuk. Stunning design that echoes the taste surprise that’s to come. Bunny Chow named after a popular dish in Durban, is rising in popularity - even with the local Israelis and it comes as no surprise… "

Bunny chow: The (South African) dish has nothing to do with cute bunnies (thankfully) it is essentially curry served in a hollowed-out bread bun. The bread from the centre (or from the remaining loaf) is ‘recycled’ to create a multipurpose sort of lid, to keep the curry warm and to dip into the curry.

Short history of the dish:

It all started in the 1940’s in Durban, South Africa, although its exact origins are unknown, many believe that Indian immigrants introduced it, when they came to work on the sugar plantations and that the hollowed-out bread (then, was ‘roti’ bread) made it easier to transport their curry lunch to the fields. The use of the bread also eliminated the need to use cutlery and dishes. Many also struggled financially at the time and people had to find new ways to eat cheaply. There were also the Banias (slang for an Indian caste) that started a restaurant of this cuisine, they introduced a vegetarian curry dish made from beans. Soon this dish gained momentum, later meat variations were introduced like mutton, chicken, mince, lamb and also kidney beans. Now the dish is served with a side salad of grated carrot, chili and onion. Today, it’s an incredibly popular street food in Durban (and elsewhere in SA) and makes a great winter hearty meal.

The Traditional Bunny Chow
The Traditional Bunny Chow

A great bunny chow will consist of more meat than potatoes (or other vegetables if you’re going for the vegetarian option) and a flavourful combination of cumin, turmeric, fennel and cardamom with just the right kick of heat. Enjoy this dish even more, by plucking off the top edges of the bread-hull and mopping up the curry within. Messy but absolutely tasty, the bread absorbs all the rich curry flavors. This is a dish best enjoyed with the hands, Israeli eccentric chef, Eyal Shani would appreciate this ‘art form’ of eating in its entirety.

Rightfully nestled within the heart of Shuk HaCarmel, Tel Aviv – the atmosphere is buzzing, loud and fast-paced and the eclectic mix of cultures and food are an ideal location for this gem. An assortment of fresh produce is a doorstep away, step into the tiny stall and order a bunny chow – watch the endless flow of shoppers flood the area. The street food Bunny Chow is one of the newest to open at the shuk.  Outside a stunning Indian-African elephant motif in blue and red welcomes you, Bunny Chow in bold black and white African-inspired print makes this tiny place stand out from all the rest. An eclectic mix of colours, exposed brick walls, modern zebra wall art and furniture from ready-made materials – like their awesome tables made from glass and colourful plastic crates and the low-hanging lights with jar covers. Despite its small size, the place is packed with cute features even the over-hanging shelves create more of that much needed space, every detail has been well-thought out, even an African border frames the ceiling. It has a real homey-feel, like the dish itself and regardless of the size of the establishment, they manage to pack quite the tasty surprise. There are a few high tables to sit at inside, outside there is a table suitable for about 4-5 diners, so whether you get a takeout or sit in – don’t miss it.

Challah (sweet bread for Shabbat) has replaced the traditional white loaf, its sweetness and fluffiness has the perfect consistency and thickness, holding the curry well. The menu is kept very simple, yet incredibly sufficient (unsurprising, with such a small space to cook in), choose between beef, chicken or a vegan bunny chow – each with their own unique spices. If you are not keen for challah you can also opt for their new rice bowls, which allows you to also mix the curries, which is perfect, especially if you’re indecisive like me – this was offered during Pesach instead of challah, and proved a real hit! All ingredients are supplied from the shuk daily, they use fenugreek, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and chili among other ingredients for their flavourful curries, and also only tomato or coconut-bases, so all in all a healthier alternative to the traditional curries. Finish off your dish with an optional extra of tehina or yoghurt, or almonds and coriander (for the vegan curry). Prices are incredibly reasonable for the large portions you receive.

Indeed!
Indeed!

I’ve been wanting to try this – fresh with a twist – South African concept to hit Tel Aviv, for quite some time now. Of course being a South African, I welcomed the concept with open arms. This dish, has filled in all the gaps between the bourekas (savory-filled pastries), jachnun (Yemenite savory pastry), sabich … and numerous other popular Israaeli carb-loaded yummies, at last something South Africans living in Israel, can proudly say is from their home town (well Durbanites anyway). The great thing about this dish is that as heavy as it looks, it is surprisingly lighter to digest than we thought it would be.

I messily enjoyed my vegan bunny (it was a particularly hot day, and meat was the last thing on my mind). The bunnies were served immaculately, wrapped in paper bags, on a circular wooden board with a side of spicy-sweet carrot salad and the ‘lid’ section of the challah.  Delicate sprinkles of shaved almonds dressed the curry. The vegan bunny, had generous chunks of various vegetables, the optional dash of yoghurt adding some extra creaminess. I stole a few bites from Hanan’s beef bunny, wow what a treat – the sweetness of the spices were beautifully balanced, large chunks of succulent beef chunks swam in the curry, for me both dishes were incredibly mild (on the heat-spice factor), but incredibly flavourful – mind you, I tend to eat a lot of spicy food. The challah soaks up all the flavours from the curry, yet it still holds very well. I could have eaten a large bowl of the carrot salad alone – hits of citrus-sweet-spicy all pleasing the palate. Wash your curry down with a South African cider, Hunters Dry – napkins are stationed and at the ready, Sriracha sauce too – for those who dare.

As we were leaving, we spotted the fruit and vegetable vendor adjacent tucking into a bunny, no doubt this dish is keeping everyone happy. Many Israelis have embraced the dish, and taken it under their wing, we saw one particular Israeli tucking in – his eyes bigger than saucers. If all the above doesn’t tempt you: They make their own biltong – choose between pepper or chili. I read Alon has great ideas like introducing an Israeli twist to his dishes with shakshuka in the challah bread (devine!) or a tomatoey fish dish. I’m still waiting to try the pineapple alcoholic drink and various chutneys that I read about in other reviews. And I’ll say it again: This is truly one place you can’t miss out on!

With barely space to fit 3 workers in the ‘kitchen’ the guys at Bunny Chow are still able to pull off an amazing dish, serving many passersby from the shuk, and even attracting new clientele and indeed serving those who came solely for the dish and not the shuk. Alon, the owner is very friendly and welcoming, along with his workers.

I hope to explore further gems to eat at whilst shopping in the shuk, stay tuned!

Find them on the corner of Yishkan Street (40) and HaCarmel Street!

For more South African food and lingo (think of it as a Beginner’s Guide ;)), check out Mike and Sharon’s Bistro

This is what happens when you go for the real spicy bunny chow in Durbs:

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