Whenever I think of Durban, the city I spent most of my youth and early-adulthood, I remember glorious sunny days spent gallivanting on the beachfront or hiking in the hills and nights spent wandering the streets, enjoying an array of delicious foods from our local haunts, before and after dancing the night away in sweaty nightclubs. It was the 90s and, fortunately, in terms of the delicious foodie offerings that are indigenous to this vibrant city, not much has changed. When I have a nostalgic pang for my hometown, my mouth immediately begins to water and my nose fills up with fiery spices of local curry which come in so many different, delectable forms. The dynamic fusion of Indian and African culture is unmistakable and makes for an exceptionally tempting local culinary scene. Here is a mere sample of what makes Durban so delicious:
Undoubtedly one of Durban’s most famous exports, this ubiquitous meal symbolises much of Durban’s cultural and social heritage. Known affectionately as the **bunny**, the bunny chow was first introduced in the 1940s as a result of the oppressive apartheid regime which did not allow people of colour to enter restaurants. The restaurant manager’s at the time, known as **Bhanya’s**, opened a hatch and sold the meal as a takeaway onto the street without the need of cutlery from the restaurant. Bhanya’s Chow (chow being a colloquial term for food) soon became very popular and took on the name, bunny chow. A bunny is essentially a square loaf of soft, white bread that has been hollowed out and filled to the brim with a fiery curry of your choice. It’s generally a lip-searingly spicy, messy, delight and best washed down with a local beer. They are extremely popular and relished across the country but never with more delight than in their hometown of Durban.
As one would pay a visit to the Eiffel Tower when visiting Paris, or the Taj when in India, a visit to Durban is simply not complete without a visit to the infamous Sunrise Chip ‘n Ranch, aka Johnny’s Rotis as the locals call it. Another institution in town, this hangout for bunny chows, rotis, curries and breyanis has been around for decades and is the traditional stop-over for late night/early morning cravings. The most famous offering from this hole-in-the-wall, stalwart hangout, is undoubtedly the signature triple chip and cheese (with decadent mutton gravy) roti which is easily big enough for two but who likes to share at 3am when the munchies strike? Buzzing from when it opens to the wee hours of the morning, this is the place where you will encounter many a Durbanite and many a newly-initiated tourist, lapping up the decadent, large portioned offerings that come at a really reasonable price.
Sardines on Toast
I know, it doesn’t sound all that tempting. But don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. This local favourite is inspired by the epic marine voyage of the humble sardine that takes place each year sometime between May and July. Known as **The Greatest Shoal on Earth** this natural phenomenon sees millions of silvery, swirling sardines migrating along the Western Cape and northward to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean in Durban. Herded by pods of dolphins, this migrations turns into a marine buffet and sparks a massive feeding frenzy among seabirds, seals, sharks and, of course, fishermen. The shares of the haul are sold at markets where pubs and restaurants, as well as locals all enjoy the fresh bounty from the sea. Best kept simple, these rich, oily delicacies are best served on crispy toast, cut up and paired with tomato and onions. And, of course, for a typically Durban twist, a delicious blend or chili, cumin, coriander, turmeric and garlic give a killer Masala twist.
As aforementioned, this is just a sample of all that is delicious about Durban. Not forgetting the crispy, triangular-shaped samosa, stuffed with spicy minced blend of chopped onions, chillies, and either lamb, fish, potato, or veggies. Or the array of delectable Zulu-inspired cuisine like Amazi, beer, **pap** (hard maize porridge) and, for the more adventurous foodie, **mogodu** (tripe). The next time you visit Durban, make sure you head to some local food markets, explore the city’s side streets and feast your taste buds on some foodie delights that have become institutions in this coastal haven.
TEXT © Julie Graham