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Bunny Chow and Pidgin English

If the master chef Escoffier were not dead already, the prospect of a bunny chow would probably have hastened his end. On the other hand, TV gourmet Keith Floyd would probably relish Durban’s famous gastronomic speciality.

It’s unlikely that many readers will be unfamiliar with this pioneer of fast-food delicacies, but just in case, it comprises half a loaf with the innards scooped out and replaced with atomic curry.

It’s the only take-away that enables you to eat the container.

Bunny chow was the subject of a recent research paper presented to the Centre of Adult Education, and drew almost as much attention as the main topic of the evening’s session: “What are the probabilities of unknown forms of beer existing in the universe?”

It was long held that bunny chow derived its name from being vaguely similar to rabbit hole. The warren was formed by removing the doughy bits, the curry became the bunny in the hole, and the result was delicious chow.

Not so, says my learned friend, attorney and C for AE alumnus Mike McKenna. Many years ago in Durban, an Indian family called Bhanya ran a tearoom in Pine Street near the old railway station which sold half-loaves filled with vegetable curry.

Because no meat was involved, there were no problems with whether or not the food was halaal or prepared according to religious requirements. As a result, Bhanya chow became corrupted to the now familiar bunny chow. It’s a very plausible explanation and it would be interesting to hear from any readers who can add to the story.

As for chow itself, the word was originally a variation of chew, predominant in Scottish and northern English dialects. But it also means a dog, a chinaman, or the pidgin English which developed in the early days of Oriental trade. Incidentally, pidgin is a corruption of business, hence the related expression, not my pidgin.

In pidgin, chow was applied to food of any description and it’s not just coincidence that the dog breed shares the same name.

According to the OED, the transfer in meaning arose from the Chinese enthusiasm for eating their four- legged friends!

It’s reminiscent of the man who did a roaring trade in horse and rabbit pies. He revealed the secret of his success to be a 50-50 ingredient ratio – one horse, one rabbit. What you might call a thoroughbred bunny chow.

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