/ 22 June 2023

Flavour Hunter: A taste of 1985 at Gounden’s curry restaurant in Durban

Whatsapp Image 2023 06 23 At 08.50.27

Durban is notoriously fickle when it comes to restaurants, so it’s something of a testament to the determination of the Gounden family — and the quality and consistent quality of their food — that Gounden’s Restaurant and Take Away has been serving what is arguably the best curry in Durban since the mid-1980s.

The restaurant has existed in various forms since 1985, when the family started serving curry in the “Indian bar” at the back of the Willowvale Hotel in Umbilo Road to the Indian workers employed in the surrounding industrial area. 

A split in the family in 2001 saw a move to nearby Eaton Road, where the restaurant cemented its reputation as a purveyor of the proper product among Durban’s curry cognoscenti from the back of a panel beater’s shop.

In 2013, Gounden’s set up shop in the old Theo’s Cafe premises on the corner of Umbilo Road and Deodar Avenue, where it is still going strong, thanks to an almost cult following in a city known for its bunny chow establishments.

Owner Devan Gounden attributes their success and longevity to the consistency of their food, which is being cooked according to the same recipe as it was in 1985.

“We are still using the same recipes as then. My mom is still in charge of the kitchen, which is why we are able to keep that kind of consistency,” Gounden says. 

“Over time, suppliers have changed but the recipe and the type of ingredients we use are still exactly the same as they were back then.

“We have tried other things, but this works, so why change what you have if it is working?” he says. “My mom is really old school, and doesn’t want us to change things, and we are happy with that.”

Gounden grew up in the family business, as did his sisters, who work in the kitchen along with their mother, with the recipes that have kept their doors open for nearly 40 years, safe in the hands of another generation.

The sit-down and takeaway menus have a wide variety of meat and vegetable curries, served with rice or roti or as bunny chow, with daily specials running from mutton and cabbage to a spectacular Durban fish curry.

Homestyle dishes, such as trotters and beans, a range of breyanis and mutton and cabbage, are available, along with freshly fried samoosas and toasted curry sandwiches, a popular takeout item with office workers from the nearby factories. 

Gounden’s is best known for its mutton bunny chow — it goes through a staggering 1 500kg to 2 000kg of mutton a week — the most popular dish on the menu, according to Gounden.

Ideal for: A lunchtime takeaway or sit-down meal with proper, home-style curries served in a no-frills environment. 

Order this:  The tinned fish samosas are the perfect warm up — crisp, spicy parcels of taste, just enough pastry and filling to invigorate the palate before the main event, without taking up too much space. 

The fish curry is top-notch but the mutton bunny is the signature dish at Gounden’s for a reason.  

Goundens Restaurant in Durban, 15 June 2023. Picture: Rogan Ward
Goundens Restaurant in Durban. (Rogan Ward)

The hollowed-out quarter-loaf of white bread, packed to the brim with fragrant, deep red-brown curry, topped with chopped dhania and accompanied by a simple carrot salad, is perfection on a plate. 

If you have space for dessert, keep things old school and go for the soji, a semolina pudding made with butter, elachi (cardamom) and cinnamon that’s the perfect foil to the heat of the curry and end to the meal.

Signature bev:  The debate about what goes better with curry — creme soda, sparberry or Coke — is an unending one. All three are available, along with a selection of beer (quarts and pints) and spirits, for those who aren’t planning on heading back to work after lunch.

You’ll like it if: You take your curry hot, authentic and totally lacking in pretence. 

A series of Roy Keane-era Manchester United posters have travelled with Gounden’s from their old premises in Eaton Road and the former United captain still glowers ferociously at diners from the restaurant’s walls.

The Friday mood is: Busy. Hungry. Industrial. Spend a few minutes watching Devan work the packed takeaway counter solo, conducting the waves of customers that start arriving from mid-morning with a dexterity that only comes with decades in the business. 

Like the food, he’s poetry in motion  — a one-man order-taking, bunny-packing, cash-collecting machine.

Address: 520 Umbilo Road, Durban.