The History of the kota, bunny chow and gatsby

What is a Kota ?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a sandwich as “an item of food consisting of two pieces of bread with a filling between them”.

In so doing it fails to fully recognise South Africa’s distinctive genre of street sandwiches in which a hollowed-out loaf serves as a portable, edible container for everything and anything from bean curries and masala steak to polony, slaptjips, Russian sausages and fried eggs.

Sometimes mashed potato is packed into these suitcase-style sandwiches too.

Whatever the filling, all such sarnies come in quarter, half and full loaf variations. Whether you call this cheap, filling and delicious street food a bunny chow, a kota, a sphatlo or an iskhambhani is an indicator of ethnicity and geographical location, but they are all proudly South African.

To help take listeners through the historical background of the kota is Anna Trapido who is a food anthropologist and historian, Vashna Jagarnath.

The fact that there is very little information about the kota speaks to the fact in which we read certain foods in society and that is deeply classed and raced.

Vashna Jagarnath, Historian

Also read: First-ever Soweto Kota Festival

The kota infiltrates various strata of society in interesting ways.

Vashna Jagarnath, Historian

The history of the kota is also very uncertain, as there are numerous tales of its origins relays Jagarnath. She explains that it is ideally, a quarter loaf of bread that is cut in half and curry is soaked in or comprises of various other stuffings such as potato chips, viennas, cheese among other things.

I like to look at who people are from the way that they eat. We are what we eat, so who are we? Everything you need to know turns up in these curious sandwiches that are so unlike what everybody anywhere else in the world thinks of what is a sandwich.

Anna Trapido, food anthropologist

All over the world, food consumed by the poor and those residing in rural areas get appropriated and added to restaurant menus, says Trapido.

Trapido says she has noticed how smart restaurants, largely in Cape Town who inexplicably win all the accolades and prizes for food in South Africa and are invariably run by white men - who behave as though they have invented things that have already existed, such as nose to tail eating.

Organic and free range is what peasant farmers all over the Transkei have always done.

Anna Trapido, food anthropologist

Listen to the clip below for more on the insightful Kota conversation


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