Bunny chow is an authentic South African street food, made from spicy beef, chicken, or lamb curry, served in half a loaf of hollowed-out bread. You can even make a vegetarian version by swapping the meat with butterbeans or chickpeas.
Contrary to what the name suggests, no rabbits were harmed in the making of this recipe 🙂
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What is a bunny chow
If you’ve never tasted a Bunny Chow before, then you are in for a treat. This is a deliciously spicy curry served in a hollowed-out loaf of bread. The gravy soaks into the bread making it unbelievably tasty. There is a saying that half a loaf is better than no bread – well, I’ve just updated it to be half a loaf filled with this delicious curry is better than anything.
There may look to be rather a lot of spices in this recipe, but they all work together to form a wonderfully aromatic curry. The heat comes from the chillies, so you can adjust this according to your own preference.
It may also seem as though there is too much gravy, but you will find you need a lot of gravy to soak into the bread.
The flavour of the curry improves on standing. I made the full recipe (it serves 4 people) for myself and hubby, and served the remainder of the curry with a bowl of rice the following night. If anything, it was even more delicious.
A Bunny Chow has nothing to do with rabbits
Contrary to what you might imply from the name, there are no rabbits in a bunny chow. The name actually originated from the Durban Indian population, known as ‘Banya’. Chow is of course just another name for food. So Banya Chow became Bunny Chow.
The Indian population of Durban were mainly farm workers working in the sugarcane fields. As there were no shops near to the sugarcane fields, they had to take their lunch with them to work. So the dish itself probably evolved out of the necessity to carry a sloppy curry to work for lunch, without a container. A hollowed-out loaf of bread served the purpose very well.
Bunny Chow has now become a favourite South African street food available at most corner cafes. In addition to beef, this curry can also be made with lamb, chicken, or even goat.
How do you eat a bunny chow?
A bunny chow is not the easiest meal to eat with a knife and fork. The traditional way to eat it is to first dunk the inner part of the bread into the sauce. Then you gradually break off bits of the bread-bowl (working from the top down) and dip those into the curry, scooping up pieces of meat or vegetables onto the piece of bread.
I prefer to use a fork (especially if I serve the dish with accompanying peas and salad), and also keep a plentiful supply of serviettes handy to wipe messy fingers!
You will probably find that half a loaf of bread is far too much for one person to eat, so what I tend to do is to cut a small farmhouse-type loaf into three pieces and just use the ends for the bunny chow. The middle piece of the loaf, along with the inside that gets removed from the ends can be turned into breadcrumbs and frozen for use in another recipe. This way, there is no waste and the portion is far more manageable.
And of course, if you don’t want to make a traditional bunny chow, you could just serve the curry over rice!
So without further ado, let’s get on with the recipe.
What you will need
You will need a small mixing bowl for coating the meat with flour. I like these mixing bowls because they have their own lids, which makes it easy to cover the bowl while the meat is standing.
**You can get the full list of ingredients and instructions for making this bunny chow recipe on the printable recipe card at the end of this post**
This recipe easily feed 4 people.
- Farmhouse loaf – this is a crusty unsliced loaf of bread and you will need half a loaf for one person. You should be able to buy small loaves in the bakery section of your supermarket which are ideal. A full-sized loaf will be too large.
- Beef – this is good quality stewing beef, such as topside or chuck. You can buy it ready cubed, or get a whole piece and cube it yourself. I sometimes find that the ready pieces of ready cubed beef can be too large and will need cutting into smaller pieces. Try to cut the beef into 1-inch cubes.
- Flour – for coating the beef before it gets seared in the frying pan.
- Sunflower oil – for searing the beef.
- Salt and sugar for seasoning.
- Worcestershire sauce – for extra flavour.
- Garlic – use finely minced fresh garlic cloves, or use ready-crushed garlic from a jar.
- Mango chutney – or any other fruity chutney. If you don’t have a fruity chutney you could substitute with apricot jam and a tablespoon of vinegar.
- Beef stock (not pictured). You can use a stock cube to make it if you don’t have fresh stock.
These are my suggestions for vegetables – you will need around 1 and a half cups of diced vegetables per person, but you don’t have to be too precise. Cut the tomatoes into a fine dice so that they break down into the gravy. The carrots and onions should be cut into approximately half-inch pieces and the potatoes into 1″ cubes.
- Potatoes – cut into one-inch pieces
- Onions – cut into half-inch pieces
- Tomatoes – depending on the season the tomatoes may not have sufficient flavour. You can add a tablespoon of tomato puree to the gravy to compensate
- Carrots – cut into half-inch pieces
If you prefer you could also add a finely chopped red pepper (capsicum).
Because the curry is served in hollowed-out bread we need to keep the pieces of vegetables quite small so that they fit nicely into the bread.
I like to mix my own spices because that way I can control the amount of chilli. You could use 2 to 3 tablespoons of ready mixed curry powder instead. Whether you use mild, medium or hot curry powder depends on how hot you like your curry.
- Garam masala
- Yellow mustard seeds
- Fennel seeds
- Ground coriander
- Ground cumin
- Ground ginger
- Dried chilli flakes
You should measure all the spices out onto a plate to make it easy to tip them into the pan when they are needed.
How to make a bunny chow
Make the curry
Coat the beef in flour which has been seasoned with salt.
Heat the oil in a frying pan, and add the meat, a few pieces at a time, until you have a single layer of meat. Fry the meat, stirring continuously until it has browned on all sides.
Transfer the meat to a plate and set it aside.
When frying the meat, don’t overcrowd the pan. If you add too much meat to the pan at once it will lower the temperature and the meat will draw moisture and boil rather than brown. Rather fry the meat in batches if it doesn’t all fit in the pan in one layer.
Add the chopped onions to the pan and stirfry them on a low heat until they start to soften, then add the crushed garlic and stirfry for one minute longer.
Tip in the spices and stir well to coat the onions completely. Keep the heat turned down to low so the spices do not burn.
Add the tomatoes and continue to stir until they soften (about 3 minutes).
Pour in the stock, stir in the Worcestershire sauce, chutney, and tomato paste (if using) and then add the browned meat.
Cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, add the potatoes and carrots, cover it with a lid, and leave it to simmer for 1 and a half hours.
Top up with extra stock if it starts to dry out.
The meat and vegetables should be tender and the gravy should have thickened.
Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste if necessary.
If the gravy is not thick enough, mix a tablespoon of flour with 3 tablespoons of cold water to form a smooth paste and stir it into the gravy. Leave to simmer for another 2 minutes to give the flour time to cook and then spoon the curry into the prepared bread cases and serve.
Prepare the bread cases
If your loaf is very small, cut it in half, otherwise, cut it into three pieces. Keep the middle piece for turning into breadcrumbs.
Run a sharp knife down the inside of each edge, forming a square in the loaf. Be careful not to cut through the bottom of the bread.
Using your fingers, carefully pull the middle section out.
You can toast the bread in the oven if you would like it to be more crispy, or leave it soft. The choice is yours.
Keep the removed bread for dipping in the gravy you eat the bunny chow.
You can also turn any unused bread into breadcrumbs by blitzing it in the food processor. Freeze the crumbs in a ziploc bag for later use.
Fill the prepared bread cases with curry and serve. I like to add peas and a fresh green salad.
If you prefer you could make a quick sambal by mixing 2 chopped tomatoes and 1 finely chopped onion with 2 tablespoons white vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let this stand for half an hour before serving to give the flavours time to develop.
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Can I freeze a Bunny Chow?
You can freeze the cooked curry, but don’t freeze it in the bread cases – make those fresh when you need them.
You can keep the curry for up to three months in a suitable container in the freezer.
To use, allow to defrost for a few hours in the fridge, or defrost it in the microwave.
Heat in a saucepan on the stove until piping hot.
Can I make this without meat?
You can swap out the meat for chickpeas, butterbeans or kidney beans and reduce the cooking time accordingly.
What can I do with leftovers?
There is so much you can do with leftover beef curry.
- Turn it into delicious snackwiches. Chop up any large lumps of meat and potatoes, spoon the curry between 2 slices of buttered bread and pop it into a snackwich maker or panini press.
- Make curried dough balls – you can make instant vetkoek using a simple 2-ingredient dough.
- Serve any leftover curry on a bed of rice for a quick and easy supper.
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Other curry recipes
Perhaps you’d like to try some of my other curry recipes:
- Easy lamb curry – a classic South African lamb curry
- Lamb curry in pita bread – a handy way to use up leftover roast lamb
- Vetkoek and curried mince – tasty beef mince curry served in vetkoek
- Chicken Bhuna with bombay potatoes – including a recipe for homemade naan bread.
- Bobotjie – a traditional South African mince curry bake
- Easy butter chicken (Murgh Makhani) – everyone’s favourite
- Chicken tikka masala – a delicious mild curry
- Easy beef madras curry – you can tone down the heat by adding less chilli
- Buttery garlic naan bread – with only 2 ingredients
And if you are looking for easy ways to cook rice, you’ll find step-by-step instructions in these posts:
Recipe – Bunny Chow
(Click the stars to rate this recipe)
For the curry
- 2 smallish loaves of unsliced bread
- 1½ pounds (680g) stewing beef chuck or topside (cubed)
- 3 Tablespoons sunflower oil for searing the beef
- 2 tablespoons flour for coating the beef
- 2 cups beef stock you can make it with stock cube
- 4 cloves garlic finely minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato puree or tomato paste optional
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons mango chutney
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1 teaspoon sugar optional
- 3 to 4 medium potatoes (cut into 1-inch cubes) approximately 2 cups
- 2 medium onions (cut into ½-inch dice) approximately 1½ cups
- 3 medium tomatoes (cut into small dice) approximately 1 cup
- 2 medium carrots (cut into ½-inch dice) approximately 1 cup
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes or to taste
- Cut the meat into 1-inch cubes, pat it dry with a sheet of paper towel and coat it in a mixture of flour and salt.1½ pounds (680g) stewing beef, 2 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon salt
- Peel and dice the vegetables and crush the garlic.4 cloves garlic, 3 to 4 medium potatoes (cut into 1-inch cubes), 2 medium onions (cut into ½-inch dice), 3 medium tomatoes (cut into small dice), 2 medium carrots (cut into ½-inch dice)
- Cut the bread loaves in half and carefully remove the inside. Try to leave a casing about ½ thick all around.2 smallish loaves of unsliced bread
- Heat the oil in a saute pan and sear the cubed beef. You may have to do this in batches. Once the beef has browned, transfer it to a plate and set it aside.3 Tablespoons sunflower oil
- Add the onion and garlic to the same pan and stir-fry gently until the onion is translucent. You may need another tablespoon of oil.
- Add the spices to the onions and stir well to coat the onions with the spices. Keep the heat on low so the spices do not burn.1 tablespoon garam masala, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon turmeric, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
- Add the tomatoes and continue to fry for about 3 minutes until the tomatoes start to soften.
- Pour in the stock, Worcestershire sauce, chutney, sugar and tomato paste, then add the browned meat. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes.2 cups beef stock, 2 tablespoons tomato puree or tomato paste, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 2 tablespoons mango chutney, 1 teaspoon sugar
- After 30 minutes, add the potatoes and carrots, cover it with a lid, and leave it to simmer for 1 and a half hours.Top up with extra stock if it starts to dry out.
- Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. If you need more sweetness add a little more mango chutney.
- To thicken the gravy, mix 1 tablespoon of flour with 3 tablespoons of cold water to make a smooth paste and stir it into the gravy. Leave to simmer for another 2 minutes to give the flour time to cook.
- Serve in the hollowed bread, with the centre of the bread on one side for mopping up any juices.
Make the bread cases
- If your loaf is very small, cut it in half, otherwise, cut it into three pieces. Keep the middle piece for turning into breadcrumbs.
- Run a sharp knife down the inside of each edge, forming a square in the loaf. Be careful not to cut through the bottom of the bread.Using your fingers, carefully pull the middle section out.
- You can toast the bread in the oven if you would like it to be more crispy, or leave it soft.
I am not a nutritionist. The nutrition information has been calculated using an on-line calculator, and is intended for information and guidance purposes only. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should consider calculating it yourself, using your preferred tool.
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