Mumbai hearts Bombay Duck

Sep 28, 2013, 03:23 IST | Anjana Vaswani

Bombil or Bombay Duck remains a perennial favourite on the menu, partly due to the fact that this delicacy is still managing to charm patrons all year round. The good news is Mumbai's chefs are now getting pretty experimental in various cuisines with this staple.

Oh flat and shocking face,
Grimly divided from the breast below!
Thou that on dry land horribly dost go
With a split body and most ridiculous pace,
Prong after prong, disgracer of all grace

This, the English poet Leigh Hunt, would have us believe, is how man is perceived by fish. Not the kindest words, but far nicer than anything that comes to mind when one looks upon “Bombil”, undoubtedly one of the ugliest fish to ever navigate the briny blue expanse between Mumbai and Kutch. In other parts of the world, it’s known by a name that better reflects its ghastly appearance — Lizardfish (Harpadon Nehereus) — but here, we fondly refer to it as Bombil, Bumla, Bummalo or Bombay Duck. And, while opinions differ, with regards to the etymology of these names, what there’s no dispute about, is the fact that it’s downright delicious. Here’s the native fish in some of its lip-smacking avatars.

Bombil Bhujane @Chaitanya

Bombil Bhujane
Bombil Bhujane. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi.

Bal Kaka, the ad-hoc manager of iconic seafood eatery, Chaitanya beams with pride when we ask him about their Bombil Bhujane, one of the most popular dishes here. “We prepare the fish in a blend of masalas,” he says, rubbing his chin as he digresses to the subject of inflation and how it hasn’t affected the price of this fish much anyway, before he continues, “Then we cook it in a traditional tomato-onion gravy, till the sauce thickens. The slightly sweetish, mildly spicy Malwani preparation, Bal Kaka tells us, is best eaten with chapati.

Stuffed Bombil Roll @Mi Maratha

Stuffed Bombil Roll
Stuffed Bombil Roll. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi.

Though this simple eatery is also famous for its Bombil Fry Thaali (Rs 140 with chapati; Rs 160 with vada/bhakri), manager Arvind Haldipur admits it’s the Stuffed Bombil that draws the crowds here. “We stuff the fish with Jawla baby shrimps marinated in masala,” he says, pointing out that this is a traditional Maharashtrian recipe, “not very spicy...and very tasty.” The shrimp for the stuffing is cooked in onions and chilli powder while the Bombil is de-boned and marinated in a paste of turmeric, salt, chillies and tamarind water. Once stuffed, the fillet is coated in a batter of semolina and rice flour, and deep-fried.

Bombil Chutney @Kinara Bar

Bombil Chutney
Bombil Chutney. Pic/Nimesh Dave.

Bombil Chutney is not an accompaniment one serves with a plate of Pakodas as it can be an entire main course on its own. Ibrahim Mandal, Chef at this Indian-Chinese restaurant in Sea and Sand Hotel, tells us that for their speciality, the Bombil is first roasted in a Tandoor, then cooked in a blend of onion, garlic, green chillies, Kokum, lemon and a special blend of “Gauti Masala”, along with coriander leaves. A rare Goan recipe to find, this dish is well worth the trek, to this small hotel in Vasai.

Bombil Fry @Malvan Katta
Amit Acharekar, owner of Malvan Katta, the Dadar Malwani cuisine restaurant, which opened its doors in 2008, tells us Bombil Fry is one of their most popular dishes. “We don’t serve stuffed Bombil because for that you need a large-sized fish and large Bombil is becoming increasingly difficult to find,” says Acharekar. What you can sink your teeth into here, however, is a sumptuous portion of the fish that’s been coated with a chilli-turmeric masala and then deep-fried.

Bombil Frittos @The Little Door
Lending an Italian influence to the city’s favourite fish, Tanu Narang, owner of this quaint eatery that opened its doors in 2012, tells us their version of Bombil Fry, christened, “Bombil Fritto,” is prepared by first marinating the fish with lots of oregano and rosemary before it’s coated in a beer-batter and deep-fried crisp. “We serve this with a garlic aioli,” Narang shares.

Parsi Bombil Fry @Britannia
Rather different from the usual Bombil Fry available around the city, the Parsi version of Bombil Fry employs a whole fish rather than a salted-and-dried piece of meat. Deep-frying this retains the juices, making the meat supremely succulent while the exterior is kept wonderfully crisp. One can’t think of a better place to sample this than at Boman Kohinoor Irani’s Britannia, where service is always with a smile. With any luck the cheery proprietor may throw in a song and dance for good measure.

Bombil Pickle @Zinobia Schroff’s

Bombil Pickle
Bombil Pickle. Pic/Atul Kamble.

“In the markets and fishing villages, you’ll find Bombay Duck salted and hung to dry,” says 60-year-old Zinobia Schroff, Dadar Parsi Colony’s best-known caterer. “You can find these at Danda and Versova, for instance, hanging on hooks,” Schroff shares, “I believe they use a kind of chemical on these in order to preserve them for a whole year, but I wash off all the salt or preservatives and then dry the fish for eight whole days before I marinate in the masala, cook it and prepare my pickle. “The result is a cracking pickle that’s a medium-spicy mixture of sour and sweet, and which won’t spoil for a whole year, even without refrigeration.

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