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Bombay Duck

The Bombay Duck, also commonly known as Bummalo, is a lizardfish native to the waters between Mumbai and Kutch in the Arabian Sea. The fish has various regional names. It is called bombil in Marathi, bamaloh in Bengali and bumla in Gujarati. The name of the fish often causes confusion and people not familiar with it often think that it in fact is a duck. The fish is also found in the Bay of Bengal, albeit in small quantities.

The distinctive feature of the fish is its strong odor which it gets after it is dried. It is extremely powerful and therefore, the fish is usually transported in containers with air-tight lids. The sea water fish is considered a delicacy and consumed by people all over the world in various different ways.

History of Bummalo

How or when the fish was first discovered or used as a culinary ingredient is highly unclear as is the origin of the term 'Bombay Duck'. One theory suggests that during the British Raj, the fish was often moved from one place to another by rail, after it died. It is believed that the train compartments of the Bombay Dak would end up smelling of fish and this led to the British referring to the particular smell as the Bombay Dak. This later metamorphosed into the fish's current name.

Local Bangladeshi theories suggest that the term was first used and coined by Robert Clive. During his conquest of Bengal, he tasted a piece and he immediately associated the pungent odor with that of the mail and newspaper which would be delivered to the cantonments from Bombay.

The fish has been used in Indian cuisine for a very long time and with immigrants and visitors, its popularity spread in other nations as well.

Popular Bombay Duck Recipes

There are various popular recipes which have the Bombay Duck as the main ingredient. Some of the most popular and widely prepared recipes which are made with Bummalo are:

  • Tarapori Patio, or Dried Bummalo Patio: This is a popular dry curry with a Parsi origin. It is usually eaten with 'Khichdee' (a light dish made by mixing and cooking rice and lentils together).
  • Fresh Bombil and Potatoes: Fresh Bummalo is cooked and served along with potatoes. The preparation is served as a part of the main course and is hugely popular among the Marathi Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu (CKP) community.
  • Bombil Bhujne: Considered a special recipe in the traditional Parsi community, this was, and still is, one of the most popular recipes to cook the fish. There was a time when each household had a 'secret' recipe to prepare the dish and there are, therefore, various versions of it. The savory preparation is generally served as a part of the main course with rice and/or chapatti (Indian bread).
  • Fried Bombil: This is the classic fried version of the fish and is prepared like regular fried fish. Bummalo pieces are coated with spices and other preferred ingredients and then fried in oil. This is a popular snack.

Preferable Cooking Methods for Bombay Duck Recipes

The fish is cooked in various ways, depending upon the recipe being followed. Frying, steaming, baking and grilling are the common cooking methods to prepare the fish. Mostly, the fish is served fried. It is a dried fish and has an acquired pungent taste. Before it is consumed, Bombay Duck is often dried and then salted.

Some Interesting Bombil Trivia

  • In 1997, the EU banned Bummalo. Although the EC openly admitted that it did not have any sanitary evidence against the ingredient and there have been no reported cases of any illnesses concerning the fish, it was banned because the European Commission allows fish to be imported from India from approved freezing and canning firms and Bombil is not prepared in these approved establishments.
  • Official figures have revealed that prior to the ban the UK consumption of the fish was over 13 tons a year.
  • In addition to India, Bombay Duck is available fresh in various Canadian cities like Toronto and Montreal. In Canada, the fish is referred to as Bumla.