Street Food Series: Bunny Chow

Bunny Chow has nothing to do with lettuce.  According to Troth Wells, author of The World of Street Food, this dish of lentil curry served in a container of bread had its origins in apartheid policies.  Segregation rules meant that restaurants could not serve “colored” people, so curry shops came up with an ingenious take-out method for their customers: a hollowed-out loaf of bread, filled with curry.  Why is it called “bunny chow?”  Wells offers this history: “Indian playwright Ronnie Govender suggests that eating houses in Grey and Victoria streets in Durban served a distinctive Gujarati vegetarian dish called a bhunia and this gave rise to ‘bunny.’  And chow has meant ‘food’ since the Chinese workers built the mid-West railways in the U.S.”  Sounds plausible.  At any rate, the bread makes not only a great container, the scooped-out interior is perfect for soaking up the curry.

I like lentil curry in almost any form, but I especially like ones made with coconut milk.  Below is my version, which I served in a loaf of sourdough.

Bunny Chow

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 large carrots, trimmed and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1-2 teaspoons hot chile paste
1-2 tablespoons Madras curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 cups brown lentils
1 cup yellow split peas (or use all lentils)
6 cups water
1 15-ounce can light coconut milk
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
salt, to taste

In a large saucepan heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and carrots and saute until the onions soften.  Add the garlic, chile paste, curry powder, and tumeric, and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant.

Stir in the lentils, split peas, water, coconut milk, and tomatoes with juice.  Bring the mixture to a simmer and cover the pot.  Cook for 40-50 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but not mushy.  Add additional water if the mixture seems too dry.  Salt to taste, and serve in a hollowed-out loaf of bread, with the interior bread chunks on the side for dipping.  Good garnished with fresh cilantro.

Thanks for reading,


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6 Responses to Street Food Series: Bunny Chow

  1. veena krishnakumar February 1, 2011 at 8:11 am #

    wow!!!!!!!!looks very delicious. Am sure my daughter would love this. mmmmm….Madras curry powder….that name is very inviting(me from madras:-) )

  2. All That I'm Eating February 1, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

    This looks great. I love it when you can eat the bowl the food comes in! It looks so warming and comforting.

  3. Angela FRS February 2, 2011 at 1:43 am #

    Oh, me too! Edible bowls are the best–and Veena, Madras is the best curry powder 🙂

  4. Yenta Mary February 3, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Always a teacher … 🙂 Not only do I now get a fabulous recipe (LOVE lentils, especially with coconut milk), but I've learned something new today!

  5. Beatrice February 6, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    Lentils + curry + coconut milk sounds wonderful — this is going on my "to make" list!


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    […] Bunny Chow by Seasonal & Savory […]

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