Legend has it, that in 1933, during the Great Depression, all those living in South Africa, including the multi-racial immigrants, struggled to secure meals on a daily basis to ease their hunger pangs. It was then that the child-labourers of the time discovered that the cheapest but tastiest meal that they could get for half a penny was a bowl of curry that could be bought from the Indian Guajarati caste, who were known as the ‘Banias’, a Durban slang term. The children also discovered that a quarter loaf of bread was the other most affordable piece of food. With no real utensils and not much time in which to consume their meal before it was taken from them, the children learned to hollow out the quarter loaf of bread by pinching away the soft inside with their fingers and filling that cavity with the curry. They would then break into it and tear away at the sides, feeding themselves with no utensils necessary. This creation became known as the ‘Bania Chow’, the first term referring to the people from whom the curry was made available and the second term, a Cantonese word (an Asian language) referring to food, which eventually became a slang term that is still acknowledged today. As time passed, ‘Bania’ was shortened to ‘bunny’, and that was how Durban’s most famous dish, the bunny chow, was born.
But despite its humble beginnings, the bunny chow is now a dish that has flourished into a meal that has become the most widely produced across the city, with each ‘creator’ attempting to bring to the table his or her special zing, vying for the title of the Maker of the Best Mutton Bunny Chow.
It is considered the most sort after and satisfying meal in Durban and is generally loved by all, both young and old and for this reason, a typical mutton bunny generally sells for nothing less than 50 bucks across the board; a price barely affordable to those belonging to the lower income brackets.
The bunny may have been the last-resort meal to the underprivileged children of the past, but for the under-privileged children of the present, it remains only a luxury meal that many pine for and wait for the day their parents earn that little extra to spoil them with one. But this festive season, that day may have come a lot sooner than they expected.
“A stirring in a mother’s heart”
When Chatsworth mother of two, Rene Naidoo, got down on her knees to pray one night, she applied her heart intently to hear what is was that she would be guided to do for the children in her community. “There were so many social ills that plagued this place. I grew up, here, in the heart of Chatsworth, so I know some of the hardships these people face. And in all of that, it is usually the little children that suffer the most. So many of them become victims of abuse. So many of them go hungry. The sad thing is that these little children bore that brunt not knowing that they deserve so much better,” the empathetic humanitarian said.
It was in the absolute silence of that prayer, that night, that Rene felt a conviction in her heart telling her to feed those less fortunate children in the community. Without much resources at her disposal at that moment, but feeling quite confident that it was indeed a divine calling, Rene set out to do exactly what her soul’s compass directed her to do.
This was how the ‘Feed The Children’ campaign was born back in 2012 and since then, the brave home executive together with her band of equally brave and compassionate women, who she says have all been just as instrumental in the mission, had set a bold objective to feed at least 5000 children over a period of five years. For the past 3 years, this has been their most crucial purpose. “It’s around the festive season, that we go out to the schools, and deliver whatever we have prepared for them,” she explained.
But whatever it is that they prepare, is certainly no run-of-the mill pity-meal. Rene and her team of women, both young and old – but all experts in the kitchen, pour their everything into acquiring the ingredients to whip up a spread fit for a king. This year, the women agreed to do whatever it took to make 650 mutton bunnies to deliver to those children who had been looking forward to this occasion all year.
With nothing but hopeful hearts and blind faith, the women (all hailing from the most humble of backgrounds themselves) set out to secure sponsorships from the flourishing business sector in the Durban South areas to prepare the popular meal. To many, this would be a Herculean task, but according to Rene, it was not the real challenge at all. “People have just been so generous. Our sponsors are from all walks of life and have all come together to provide for our children,” she said. From the meat, to the bread, to the potatoes and cool-drinks, sponsorships were acquired for all, affording the Feed The Children gang exactly what they needed to put it altogether.
At the crack of dawn on an inclement November morning, these women, undeterred by the weather, all reported to duty at the Woodhurst Flats, slap-bang in the middle of the Woodhurst neighbourhood, all of them equipped with pots, firewood and their special spices to start with the cooking of the mutton curry that would fill the children’s cavity once more. From peeling potatoes, to cutting the mutton and bread, and braising it into a flavoured tenderised curry, they got to it, with the efficiency of a real conveyor-belt operation. By 7am, the entire neighbourhood was waking up to a delicious aroma, alluding to the sumptuous lunch that was to follow.
By 10.30am, the bunnies were filled, wrapped and packed into the back of the van ready for delivery. Rene explained that her team had selected two schools that they felt would benefit the most from their endeavours, namely Summerfield Primary and Truro Prevocational School.
The Feed The Children team arrived to a buzz of noisy pupils who were all excited by the prospect of receiving their luxury lunches. One by one they tentatively took their brown packets with their meals. One by one they tucked in, with no utensils necessary. In a matter of moments, the noise levels dropped considerably as the pupils sat, just savouring the deliciousness of their feast.
Speaking to DurbanZone journalists, principal of the school Dion Bishop described the gesture as one that was really needed and truly appreciated. “Many of the pupils who attend our school rely greatly on the school’s nutritional programme, whereby we provide them with a meal on a daily basis. Given that we do not have large budgets, we provide them with basic meals in the best way we can. A mutton bunny is definitely far out of that budget. So having the Feed The Children team do something like this for our pupils is incredible and it helps them to feel the festive cheer a little more,” he said. Principal Bishop added that Rene and her team have certainly done something that history would proud of: they had succeeded in giving the bunny chow back to the children.