One writer traces the evolution of Durban Indian cuisine, and the role her indentured ancestors played in shaping the city’s culinary and cultural landscape (@IshayGovender), for MIC, October 2018

Fish curry, tripe curry, mutton curry, you name it, Durban’s got it and it’s all mouth-watering.

On South Africa’s palm tree-lined east coast, within the humid port city of Durban and its surrounds, a unique style of Indian cuisine has evolved over the course of 158 years. Locals say you can’t leave before you try one of the Durban curries: smouldering hot mutton curry studded with potato chunks called “gravy soakers,” fiery fish curry spiked with black tamarind and curry leaves; or bunny chow, a hollowed-out quarter-loaf of white bread filled with curry. One popular filling is the finger-staining broad bean curry — the only way to eat it is with your hands. Durban curry and rice was labeled a “national dish” in 1961 in Indian Delightsby Zuleikha Mayat and the Women’s Cultural Group, an instrumental community collection that was also the first cookbook by local Muslim authors.

The dark, complicated history of Durban Curry

The story of this cuisine commences long before my ancestors, the indentured Indians, arrived in Durban. More than 150,000 Indians were sent to the South African port city at the request of the British between 1860 until 1911, mainly agricultural laborers from lower castes. They were destined for the unruly sugar cane plantations, railways, fishing and boating industries.

The history of Durban Indian food starts, of course, in India, with its bounty of staples and spices, and the way it became entwined with the food available in South Africa, which was cultivated and reared by the indigenous Zulu people.


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