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Friday 9 October 2015

When in South Africa feast on smileys, walkie talkies and bunny chows

They do fast food a little differently in South Africa. Sure they have KFC (fried chicken is hugely popular), McDonald's burgers, pizzas from Dominos and spicy chicken from home-grown Nando's. 

But they also have bunny chow, the gatsby, smileys and walkie talkies. 

A lot of South African, particularly those living in townships, don't have the money to spend on visiting global chains with uniformed staff and impeccable hygiene, so they make do with some traditional favourites. 

Bunny chow (above) is a long-time favourite, made popular by Indian migrant workers in KwaZulu-Natal but now popular everywhere. Cut a loaf of white bread in half, pull out the interior bread and then fill the crust with mutton, chicken or vegetable curry. Serve with a side dish of locals pickles, known as atchar.

A more economical version of bunny features a hollowed out quarter loaf filled with curry and known as a kota. Both versions are usually eaten using the hands, with knives and forks eschewed.

A Smiley is a whole barbecued sheep’s head with its lips bared in a charred grin (thus the name). It is popular in townships where a lot of work goes into removing excess hair from the beast's head before it is served. Township rollers say it is a good cure for a hangover - and smileys are often roasted in makeshift tin drums and sold by the side of the road.

Smileys are often boiled before being roasted, with the brains and the eyeballs seen as particular delicacies.  

The Gatsby is a more recent addition to the culinary landscape. It is essentially a foot-long sandwich, often cut into smaller sections, filled with a variety of dishes, but always featuring hot chips (French fries) and usually a processed meat like polony. 

The Gatsby originated in the shanty towns of the Cape Flats (some of which tourists drive past on their way to Cape Town from the airport). 

The idea started when locals would buy large bread rolls and then fill them with whatever leftovers they had at home, hence the many varieties of gatsby. Urban legend says the gatsby first became popular around the time of the release of the Robert Redford film The Great Gatsby.

More up-market versions of the Gatsby can include fillings like local smoked snoek fish and calamari, but it remains a workers' dish, often shared by several people.

In South Africa, very little food goes to waste. Hence the popularity of walkie talkies (above), also sometimes called runaways, a dish featuring chicken heads and feet, usually barbecued (braaied as the locals call it) or served in a thin curry sauce, served with pap, or maize porridge.

This is a very popular dish in the townships of Gauteng and in the Cape.

A favourite with all stratas of society is the ubiquitous farm sausage known as boerewors, which can be metres long before being cut when cooked. This is served barbecued with pap and usually with a tomato and onion sauce. Delicious. 

South African Airways (SAA) has linked with code share partner Virgin Australia to offer return fares from major Australian airports to Johannesburg starting from $1413 return, including taxes, for advance purchases. Return business class fares including taxes start from $4633. For information and reservations call 1300 435 972.   


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