Curries – spicy, flavorful, eye-watering curries – were introduced to KwaZulu-Natal by Indian immigrants, who were brought to South Africa to work on the sugarcane plantations during the British colonial era. When their contracts finished, many of these laborers chose to remain in South Africa. As a result, Durban (the province's biggest city) now has the largest Indian population in sub-Saharan Africa.
Indian culinary traditions have become an integral part of the city's culture – so much so that Durban is now just as famous for its curry restaurants as it is for its golden beaches and iconic surf spots. Sampling local curries is an essential part of any traveler's Durban experience, and in this article, we look at some of the best places to do just that.
TripAdvisor's Top Three
The Little India Restaurant
In addition to being Durban's top-rated Indian restaurant, The Little India Restaurant is also the number one restaurant across all cuisines. The restaurant's contemporary dining room is made cosy by atmospheric fairy lights and the wait staff's warm service. If you're new to Durban curry, your waiter will talk you through the menu options, so that you know exactly what you're getting into. The menu is extensive, offering regional specialties such as Manchurian-style curries and dosas (rice flour pancakes) from South India. There is also a wide choice of vegetarian and seafood options.
Specialty: Paper masala dosa
Location: 155 Musgrave Road, Durban
Mali's Indian Restaurant
In second place on TripAdvisor (both for Indian restaurants and overall) is Mali's. Situated inside an unassuming residential house, Mali's sets a simple scene with saffron-colored walls and rustic wicker chairs. The focus here is on the service, which is attentive, friendly and endlessly knowledgeable; and on the food, which is crafted with impressive dedication to authentic techniques. The menu is vast, but specializes in South Indian staples including dosa, idli (a kind of savory cake), and Chettinad curries. The bar offers local beers and a small selection of South African wines.
Specialty: Chettinad curries
Location: 77 Smiso Nkwanyana Road, Durban
TripAdvisor reviewers label laid-back CaneCutters as the third-best Indian restaurant in Durban. Its menu is less traditional and more limited than the previous entries, but stands out for its award-winning bunny chows (ranked as the best in Durban in 2016). This uniquely South African specialty comprises a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with fragrant curry. In addition to regular bean, chicken and mutton flavors, CaneCutters also offers specialty bunnies (think chicken and prawn or trotters and beans). They also serve burgers for members of your group that don't like curry.
Specialty: All bunny chows
Location: 53 Helen Joseph Road, Durban
Gounden's has an uninspiring greasy spoon exterior, and the interior decor isn't much to write home about either – but it's what's on your plate that counts. The restaurant's enduring popularity is indicated by packed tables filled with hungry Durbanites. The menu is simple, but the curries are both authentic and delicious. Sides include roti and rice, but the most popular choice by far is the mutton bunny chow (which has developed something of a cult following amongst locals in the know). Portions are generous and prices are modest, making Gounden's a top choice for those on a budget.
Specialty: Mutton bunny chow
Location: 520 Umbilo Road, Durban
Sunrise Chip n' Ranch
Located in a less-than salubrious street and covered in multi-colored signs announcing ludicrously low-priced specials, Sunrise Chip n' Ranch doesn't look like much. However, it's open around the clock and has earned a reputation for the best cheese and chip rotis in town – especially after a late night party. Fondly referred to as Johnny's by local fans, Sunrise has been a Durban institution for over 50 years. It's takeaway only, and curries and bunny chows also feature alongside the restaurant's famous rotis. There's a second Sunrise branch in Mowbray, Cape Town.
Specialty: Chip and cheese roti
Location: 89 Sparks Road, Durban
Best for Vegetarians
Patel's Vegetarian Refreshment Room
Although most Durban curry restaurants include at least a few vegetarian options on their menu, it's nice for non-meat eaters to dine at a place dedicated entirely to their satisfaction. Patel's Vegetarian Refreshment Room fits the bill perfectly, exclusively serving meat-free curries and handmade sweets since 1915. The vegetarian and bean bunnies are famous city-wide and regularly sell out – so you'll need to be quick off the mark to beat the lunchtime crowd. There's nothing fancy about Patel's or its surrounds, but the quality (and price) of the food makes this spot a firm Durban favorite.
Specialty: Bean bunny chow
Location: 202 Dr Yusuf Dadoo Street, Durban