Billal Cuisine (Durban, South Africa)

The next stop on our trip to South Africa was a few days spent in Durban to explore the beachfront and explore the area a bit before heading back to Johannesburg. Durban has an interesting history; it’s the third largest city in South Africa, and one of Africa’s largest ports. Now just part of the larger eThekwini municipality, it is a highly ethnically diverse city, with large Zulu, White, and Asian populations, and the metro area hosts one of the largest Indian populations outside of India. From that history, Durban has developed it’s own variety of Indian food, with one particular dish that’s become well-known: Bunny Chow.

We first got turned on to bunny chow from UK chef Ottam Yottolenghi, when he did a Guardian article on the dish. It’s one of those unique fusion dishes, with a loaf of bread (usually white sandwich bread, and sold by the fraction of a load, so a “quarter Bunny” is a 1/4 of a standard loaf), hollowed out and filled with a curry of your choice. The local curries tend on the spicy-but-not-overly hot side, and it’s traditional to eat it by tearing off break and sopping up the bits of curry. There are many, many places to get Bunny Chow in the Durban area (heck, it’s pretty popular across South Africa, I saw it several times in Johannesburg, too), but they were concentrated in the suburbs. Downtown, there’s a number of well-known cafes that serve up Bunny Chow, but one of the better-reviewed ones was Billal Cuisine out by the beachfront.

The down side of visiting Durban in May is that between the seasons and the East Cape being a bit far east in its time zone, it got dark pretty early: by 6pm the sun had fully set, so while Billal Cuisine has a prime location on the North Beach end of the Golden Mile, we mostly just got to watch the occasional beach walkers while listening to the waves rolling in. To start out, we got beverages… Carol opting for a fairly standard mango lassi, while I was intrigued to try a local favorite, the Bombay Crush. The Bombay Crush was basically a rose-and-cardamom flavored milkshake topped with a sweet green jelly (that I’m told was falooda powder… I’ll have to go research that one). But both were enjoyable and refreshing after a long day of driving down from Big Five False Bay.

One of the main attracts at Billal Cuisine is their selection of Bunny Chow, offering up quarter, half, and hole Bunnies with a variety of different curries, including mutton, chicken, bean, vegetarian, kebab, and even chips with gravy. Wanting to stay classic, I opted for a quarter chicken bunny, extra spicy, and a few minutes later had a nice quarter loaf of bread, hollowed out, and overfilled with a very good chicken curry. Served bone in, this was nice, tender chicken, with a very, very aromatic sauce teeming with turmeric, pepper, cardamom, and other spices; while I ordered it extra spicy, this was still more of an aromatic blend than a fiery spicy one, but this was a surprisingly great dish, using the bread to grab bits of the chicken and sop up the curry sauce as we dined. In any case, I’m a fan. I’m guessing this is shared a lot, a “quarter bunny” was a lot of food, a full load bunny would be enough food for four.

Carol opted to go for a quarter bunny with mutton, and this was basically the same dish but with mutton. Here the curry really shined, a slightly darker curry blend than my chicken bunny, this was a well-rounded, extremely savory and flavorful curry, and also a delight to eat.

Rounding out our meal was a bit of garlic naan, which was quite flavorful and had a nice char, although if I had fully appreciated the amount bread in a standard “quarter bunny”, I probably would have skipped this.

Interestingly, two days later, we did a “Cultural Walking Tour of Durban”, and that walk ended with a walk along the Golden Mile Beach, ending at our guide Johnny’s favorite beachside spot for getting Bunny Chow…

…which was Billal Cuisine. So we had a second visit here, where we both got the lamb biryani, which was also really good.

So not only was Billal Cuisine a favorite of ours, but a favorite of our guides. On both visits the food was excellent and extremely flavorful, the staff very pleasant and friendly, and the location a great place to enjoy your food while watching the beach life. I’ll definitely come back if I’m in Durban again.

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