Feast and Phrase

Gastronomy in the world of words.

Tag: rabbits

Bunny South Africa

A Bite of Bunny Chow

I’ll begin by ending your confusion: this is not a piece on the word history of rabbit food. (I’m not even sure how that would work.)

‘Bunny chow’ is not ‘rabbit food’. Apart from the name, it has nothing to do with rabbits. It doesn’t contain rabbits either – though I suppose that depends on your filling of choice! It is, however, downright delicious.

A classic South African grab-to-go speciality, a bunny chow (often more simply referred to as a ‘bunny’) is a hollowed-out section of bread loaf containing meat or vegetarian curry.

Bunny ChowBunny chow in tiger bread (which does not contain tigers). Taken from the Twitter page of Bunnymans Bunnychow. The featured image for this article is from Flickr user fabulousfabs.

The filling is scooped up using pieces from the crusty outside while the inside soaks up juices and flavour. The remaining bread can be eaten up much like an ice-cream cone. Edible container and no washing up? Yes please!

Now enjoyed throughout the country and worldwide, bunnies are believed to have originated with the Indian community of Durban in the mid-20th century. They were supposedly created for plantation workers as a portable alternative to the vegetable dishes and roti (Indian flatbread) which they had for lunch.

They may also have been made as a takeaway option for people who were not allowed to eat in restaurants due to apartheid laws. Meat was added later, as the popularity of the dish spread.

Serving bunny chowEating bunny chow at home. There are many pictures bunny chow being ‘plated up’, with the popular street food being served in sit-down restaurants. Image from Flickr user Amanda Wood.

There have been various suggestions for the origin of the name. The most common is that ‘bunny chow’ may come from bania, a term for a Gujarati merchant caste. This took on the general meaning of ‘Indian shopkeeper’ in South Africa – even if the individuals in question were of another social class. Presumably, the ‘chow’ (or ‘food’) sold by these people came to be known as bania chow, and later, ‘bunny chow’.

Another account tells that the dish was invented at a specific restaurant in Durban as a takeaway option for non-white customers. The owner was called Bhanya, therefore, ‘Bhanya’s chow’.

Some say that bunny chow is named after the banyan trees of Durban, under which it was first sold by street-side sellers. ‘Banyan chow’? Perhaps.

GandhiMahatma Gandhi was part of a Bania caste in Gujarat. Even so, it is highly unlikely that he indulged in bunny chow. Image from Pixabay.

My first and only encounter with bunny chow was on this very day one year ago. Wandering through Southampton’s fairly un-Christmassy Christmas Market, I came across a stall for ‘Bunnymans Bunnychow’, and asked the obvious question of whether it contained any rabbit. The staff explained everything very enthusiastically, but probably added me to a secret below-the-counter tally of people who ask ‘the rabbit question’.

Bunnymans Bunnychow Southampton 1
The Bunnymans Bunnychow stall I came across at Southampton Christmas Market a year ago today.

I gleefully carried off a ‘Vegi Delight’, filled with a meat-free chilli and topped with sour cream and a crunchy garlic bread slice. Incredible.

Bunnymans BunnychowOne ‘Vegi Delight’ bunny ready to go!


Lembas Bread

Lord of the Lembas

20 October 2015 calls for a ‘long-expected party’: The Lord of the Rings turns 60! Back in 1955, this day saw the completion of J. R. R. Tolkien’s high fantasy classic with the publication of The Return of the King, third and last part of the series.

Celebrating the occasion from a Feast and Phrase point of view, I thought I would take a look at some of the food and drink featured in the series. Yes, my nerd level is over 9000. But this would have hobbit approval – hobbits being the foodies of Middle Earth, supposedly fond of ‘six meals a day (when they could get them)’.

Second BreakfastSilly hobbitses. Taken from Giphy.

And what celebration would be complete without food and drink? As Tolkien describes Bilbo’s party:

‘When every guest had been welcomed and was finally inside the gate, there were songs, dances, music, games, and, of course, food and drink. There were three official meals: lunch, tea, and dinner (or supper). But lunch and tea were marked chiefly by the fact that at those times all the guests were sitting down and eating together. At other times there were merely lots of people eating and drinking — continuously from elevenses until six-thirty, when the fireworks started.’

‘A Long-Expected Party’, The Fellowship of the Ring.

Baggins HomeBilbo Baggins’ home in New Zealand (also known as Middle Earth). Uploaded by Flickr user Tom Hall.

With their love of ‘peace and quiet and good tilled earth’, Tolkien’s hobbits are like folk right out of a pleasant English country village, and their food is very much the same – rustic and homely:

‘One or two other hobbits belonging to the farm-household came in. In a short while fourteen sat down to eat. There was beer in plenty, and a mighty dish of mushrooms and bacon, besides much other solid farmhouse fare.’

‘A Shortcut to Mushrooms’, The Fellowship of the Ring.

MushroomHobbits love mushrooms. Image located via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s almost like comforting pub grub. A hobbit-hole does mean comfort, after all. Not something easily forgotten when you’re miles from home, trekking through the wilderness – as is the case when Gollum brings Sam some freshly-caught rabbits:

Gollum withdrew grumbling, and crawled into the fern. Sam busied himself with his pans. ‘What a hobbit needs with coney,’ he said to himself, ‘is some herbs and roots, especially taters – not to mention bread. Herbs we can manage, seemingly.’

‘Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit’, The Two Towers.

Master Gamgee’s carb cravings lead to that ‘famous’ exchange:

‘[…] What’s taters, precious, eh, what’s taters?’
‘Po – ta – toes,’ said Sam. ‘The Gaffer’s delight, and rare good ballast for an empty belly. But you won’t find any, so you needn’t look. But be good Sméagol and fetch me the herbs, and I’ll think better of you. What’s more, if you turn over a new leaf, and keep it turned, I’ll cook you some taters one of these days. I will: fried fish and chips served by S. Gamgee. You couldn’t say no to that.’
‘Yes, yes we could. Spoiling nice fish, scorching it. Give me fish now, and keep nassty chips!’
‘Oh you’re hopeless,’ said Sam. ‘Go to sleep!’

‘Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit’, The Two Towers.

Like ‘They’re Taking the Hobbits to Isengard’, this has also had the Internet honour of being remixed.

Potatoes GIFA classic scene. Taken from Giphy.

One of the main sources of energy for Frodo and Sam is of course lembas, also known as ‘waybread’: the long-lasting, stomach-filling bread of the Elves. It’s almost like a shortbread version of trail-mix, if you go by Tolkien’s description: ‘The food was mostly in the form of very thin cakes, made of a meal that was baked a light brown on the outside, and inside was the colour of cream.’ Not just any shortbread, as the Elves point out:

‘[…] it is much more strengthening than any food made by Men, and it is more pleasant than cram, by all accounts. […] The cakes will keep sweet for many many days, if they are unbroken and left in their leaf-wrappings, as we have brought them. One will keep a traveller on his feet for a day of long labour, even if he be one of the tall Men of Minas Tirith.’

‘Farewell to Lórien’, The Fellowship of the Ring.

Lembas 2Homemade lembas. From a recipe featured on Brielle’s Notions. The featured image for this article is from the same location.

Cram is the human equivalent of lembas, and just doesn’t cut it. That said, there are some interesting fan recipes for lembas online. I guess the Uruk-Hai equivalent is ‘man-flesh’ (needless to say, don’t Google for recipes…). The Uruk-Hai also drink a ‘burning liquid’; one of the troop forces an exhausted Pippin to take a swig, which leaves him with a ‘hot fierce glow’. Where’s a St Bernard when you need one?

The other notable drink is the water of the tree-herding Ents, which puts Miracle-Gro to utter shame. As Gimli remarks on reuniting with Merry and Pippin:

‘Why, your hair is twice as thick and curly as when we parted; and I would swear that you have both grown somewhat, if that is possible for hobbits of your age. This Treebeard at any rate has not starved you.’

‘Flotsam and Jetsam’, The Two Towers.

EntAnother modern re-imagining of Tolkien’s Ents. Uploaded by Pixabay user jetstar101.

And there you have it: a quick sweep of some of Middle Earth’s food and drink. Happy 60th Birthday, Lord of the Rings!

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