Durban curry at its best is a thing of beauty. Feared, adored, craved, it is a quintessential national dish that stirs deep emotions. Every South African curry lover has a preference, an affiliation to a curry house or restaurant, and a heat tolerance level. One list can never cover it all, so be sure to share your favourites in the comments.
What makes a perfect curry is the same as me lauding my mother’s mutton curry as better than the auntie’s down the road. It could never end pleasantly, and it’s not necessary to debate. Instead, based on personal preference, there must be a quick tempering of spices, a slow cooking of the sauce and if meat is used, a tender end result – usually the meat is marinated, but this too will differ with each family and restaurant chef.
The wonderful thing I can attest to, is that curry forms the ideal vehicle for vegetables. So very many childhood nemeses (read: green beans, mushrooms, brinjals), were disguised cunningly under the alluring veil of dry braising or lush curry sauce blankets. And it worked, because today I eat all my veggies with gusto.
There are a number of items on my Durban curry must-eat list for each visit. The precursor is always a half a dozen potato curry and mince curry samooas. Unlike varieties around the country, these samosas hold little back, and green chilli is prominent. Thereafter, I want to tuck into a bunny chow or a curry and rice with the works. The ‘works’ refers to the vinegary grated carrot, onion and chilli salad, tomato sambals and pickles.
Another favourite is take-away mince or butterbean roti roll, with pickles. The roti roll is essentially different from the Cape salomi, in that it is thinner, less flakey and less rich. It makes a fabulous ‘filler’ between meals, whereas the doughy salomi is the main act. But, if you’ve had a filled roti roll, it’s hard to enjoy a large plate of chicken breyani with raita, pickles and dhall, and have seconds.
The Durban curry and its relatives take planning, but I make sure I have all the time in the world for just that.
Here are my 10 best places to eat curry in Durban.
1. Best for Crab & Prawn Curry
They proclaim to have the ‘world’s best prawn curry’ and you get to choose your level of fire. Pleasant sea views – try to get a table outside.
62 South Beach Road, Desainagar, Tongaat, tel 032 941 5551
2. Best for Bunny chow
Rough and tumble canteen style eatery, renowned for its bunny chow. The chops curry is also excellent.
39 Eaton Road, Umbilo, Durban, tel 031 205 5363
3. Best for Bunny 2 (because 1 isn’t enough)
Possibly the only time I’ll recommend a betting joint. They make good curry, and the bunnies have a huge following.
126 Intersite Avenue, Umgeni Business Park, Springfield, tel 031 263 0457
4. Best for Palaak Paneer
Recommended by MasterChef 2013 winner Kamini Pather as the best place in the city for palaak paneer, I’m apt to agree.
20 Windermere Road (Lilian Ngoyi), Durban, tel 031 309 1328
5. Best for Mutton Curry
Govender’s Curry Kitchen
Curry lovers will travel far to get here. Kitsch décor, legendary curry.
5 Eaton Road, Umbillo, tel 031 205 4590
6. Best for tripe and trotters (also in bunny)
Capsicum Restaurant at Britannia Hotel
The run down restaurant in a once posh hotel fills up very quickly. There is also a take away option. The puri patha and Bombay Crush are recommended. Their mutton curries are also great – if you can’t make it to the restaurant try their mutton curry recipe at home.
1299 Umgeni Road, tel 031-303-2266.
7. Best Vegetarian
Govinda’s Pure Vegetarian Restaurant (at the Hare Krishna Temple)
Situated on the ground floor of the temple, this is a really busy restaurant – for worshippers and visitors. The food ascribes to Hare Krishna standards and the rotis and vegetable breyani are particularly good
50 Bhaktivedanta Swami Circle, Chatsworth, tel 031 403 4600
8. Best for butter chicken
Kebabish Tikka & Take Away
In words of the owner “it’s not like other restaurants, the taste is different”. There’s also a branch in Sparks road, Overport. Very popular with the Muslim community.
37 Sol Harris Crescent, North Beach, tel 031 3681844
9. Best for breyani
Come for the breyani, stay for the buffet. One of the better curry restaurants in terms of décor and set up too.
131 Waterkant Road, tel 031 5641295
10. Best for hangover curry cures
Sunrise Chip ‘n Ranch
This is where the Durban 3 am post-party crowd hangs out. The chip and cheese roti with mutton curry gravy is set to cure most ills. A humble mince roti roll may do the trick too.
89 Sparks Road, Overport, tel 031-209-2020
If you’re planning a trip to Durban (and it’s worth going to the coastal city just to eat curry), here are some accommodation options and family attractions.
Ishay is a food and culture travel writer, social media story teller and quirk-spotter. She writes for Drive South Africa and her own blog, Food and the Fabulous.
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