Bombay duck

The Bombay duck or bummalo (Harpadon nehereus, Bengali: bamaloh, Gujarati: bumla, Marathi: bombil) is, despite its name, not a duck but a lizardfish. It is native to the waters between Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and Kutch in the Arabian Sea, and a small number are also found in the Bay of Bengal. Great numbers are also caught in the China Sea. The fish is often dried and salted before it is consumed. After drying, the odour of the fish is extremely powerful, and it must consequently be transported in air-tight containers.


The origin of the term "Bombay duck" is uncertain. Some authors advance the theory that, during the British Raj, the fish was often transported by rail after drying. The story goes that the train compartments of the Bombay Dak (in English, the Bombay Mail) would smell of the fish, consequently leading the British to euphemistically refer to the peculiar smell as the "Bombay Dak". A variant of the story is that, though the fish weren't transported on the train, it smelt strongly because of the rotting railway sleepers over which it travelled, and this was thought to resemble the smell of the drying fish. In either case, this was supposedly corrupted into "Bombay duck". Although the likelihood of this origin is questionable, it does have the authority of a BBC Radio 4 interview in August 2006.

According to local Bangladeshi stories, The term Bombay duck (called "Shootkie" in Sylheti) was first coined by Robert Clive, after tasting a piece during his conquest of Bengal, it is told that he referenced the pungent smell to that of the news papers and mail which would come in to the cantonments from Bombay. The term was later popularised amongst the British public by its appearance in Indian restaurants (which are in fact, mostly Bangladeshi owned) across the country.

In cuisine

Despite the rather unpleasant odour of the fish, it is often considered to be a delicacy by connoisseurs of Indian cuisine. If freshly caught, it is sometimes eaten fried in a batter; and in its dried form, it is commonly eaten in a curry. It is also prepared as a pickle. The bones of the fish are soft and easily chewable.

In Teochew cuisine of China, it is called fresh fish of this kind is very common and eaten in fried with flour. It is salted and peppered when eaten. In Hong Kong, it is called and common, too.

It is also eaten in South Africa.

European Union restrictions on imports

In 1997, Bombay Duck was banned by the European Commission (EC) of the European Union. The EC admitted that it had no "sanitary" evidence against the product and the UK Public Health Laboratory Service confirmed that there are no recorded cases of food poisoning, or bacterial contamination, associated with Bombay Duck. It was banned because the EC only allows fish imports from India from approved freezing and canning factories. Bombay Duck is not produced in factories.

According to "The Save Bombay Duck campaign" , the Indian High Commission approached the European Commission about the ban. The EC adjusted the regulations so that the fish can still be dried in the open air but has to be packed in an "EC approved" packing station. Now a Birmingham wholesale merchant has found a packing source in Mumbai/Bombay and the product is again available.

The BBC notes that consumption in the United Kingdom prior to the ban was over 13 tonnes per year.

Bombay Duck is available fresh in Canada in cities with large Indian populations, such as Toronto and Montreal and is generally known as bumla. Although mainly popular with Indians from southern Gujarat, it is increasingly consumed by the other South Asian populations.

In Television

In the episode "Rabbit Pie" of The Sooty Show, Matthew enquires as to what exactly Bombay Duck is. "Soo" replies that "Oddly enough Bombay Duck is in fact dried fish which is deep fried. It looks a bit like an old wash leather and smells remarkably like sweaty socks".

In the September 23rd episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, Bombay Duck is featured. While visiting Goa, India, Zimmern dines at "Mum's Restaurant" where the dish is served in its pan fried form.

In Music

The popular instrumental rock band, The Ventures, famous for such tunes as the 1960 hit "Walk, Don't Run", "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue", among countless covers, covered their own rendition of the title "Bombay Duck", and was featured as the closing track of their 1968 album "Pops in Japan No.2". Click on the following link to hear the song: Besides The Ventures, The Shadows also released a cover of "Bombay Duck" as a single in 1967.


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