Street food for thought

2012-07-03 16:08

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Street Food is not just a sustenance but a worldwide culture. It is one of the best ways to immerse oneself in a foreign country's culture. Real travellers eat off the streets at some point. In South Africa we have a wide range of street foods, influenced by the abundant cultures in the country. Of the many street foods we have, there definitely are a few that stand out in popularity.

Let's take a look at some of them.

Bunny Chow

There are various theories about how the Bunny Chow originated, but there is no question about where it comes from. That place being Durban, along the Sunshine Coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

One account states that shopkeepers, originally referred to as Banias (an Indian caste of merchants and possibly "bunny" could be a corruption of this term), first started making them in the early 1900s. Indian migrant workers brought to South Africa to work the sugar cane plantations of KwaZulu-Natal (then Port Natal) needed a way of carrying their lunches to the field. The hollowed out loaf of bread was a convenient way to transport their curries as the traditional roti bread would break up or fall apart easily. We highly recommend sampling what has since become a pavement special delicacy.


The Gatsby is an interesting case with its own urban legends surrounding it. An unverified version of its origins lays claim to both its creation and subsequent popularity in the Western Cape. According to legend the Gatsby actually hails from New Zealand, apparently explaining the enormous Cape support of the New Zealand rugby team. The alleged inventor, a Maori Chief who's passion for rugby and discovery of French loaves through a foreign visitor to his home,  came to South Africa in support of his team during the banned tours of the 80s. He then introduced his recipe of chips and polony laid inside a loaf to the Capetonians that hosted him and from there it spread like wildfire.

Again this information is unverified and seems to be more of a folk story trying to explain the Cape's large All Black fan base.

A story of more substance is that a Gatsby is a soft, foot-long roll stuffed with fish or meat, vinegary french fries known as slap chips, and a sauce - usually achar (curried Indian pickle) or peri-peri (a chilli sauce). Rashaad Pandy of the fish-and-chips shop Super Fisheries, in Athlone, claims to have invented it one night in 1976 when, trying to feed some day laborers he had hired and found that he had sold out of fish. So he proceeded to fill a round Portuguese loaf with what he had: chips, fried polony, and atchar. One man exclaimed, "This is fantastic-a Gatsby smash!" (Smash was local slang for a tasty dish.) The film The Great Gatsby had recently played to enthusiastic crowds at the Athlone Bioscope. The early Gatsby's round loaf was also said to be shaped like the newsboy cap worn by Robert Redford in the movie.

Boerwors Roll

Boerewors is as traditional as you can get and it is hard to imagine a sports event, farmer's market or school fete without a Boerewors stall. Loosely translated it means "boere" - farmers and "wors" - sausage; indicative of where the boerewors originated from.The smell of boerewors on an open fire, is very hard to match! A Boerewors Roll is simply a piece or sausage in a long bun, enjoyed with caramelized onions and of course Mrs Balls Chutney.

Fish and Chips

The effect that the local chip had in the UK gave the Portuguese travelling down south the idea of spreading the fresh concept but in a more versatile and creative approach. This turned into South Africa's local fish and chips cafe, found on every street corner.

Spatlo or Kota

This street food is most commonly found in the townships of Gauteng. The name Kota is a misappropriation of the pronunciation and spelling of "quarter" placing emphasis on how much of the loaf is used to make the meal. Spatlo is Sotho slang indicating food that is easily carried. is Without being able to find any formal research on neither it nor its history the best way to describe it, is the perfect combination between a Gatsby and a Bunny chow. The Kota like the bunny chow is also a hollowed out loaf, but lends itself to the Gatsby by being filled with chips, cheese, polony egg and the old faithful atchar. Once washed down with whatever drink you decide to have with it, fizzy drinks are best, you are guaranteed to not move for a good hour or so. The cheapest method to fill your belly with satisfaction.

Do you think there are any that have we have missed? Let us know of them below, or tell us about street foods around the world you've come across and enjoyed.

Read more on:    travel south africa

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