What is Bombay Duck?

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  • Written By: Sara Schmidt
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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While Bombay duck may sound like a type of fowl dish, it is actually a type of lizardfish. The small fish is a favorite food in Asia, India, and other parts of the world. It can be used as a relish, a main dish, or a crispy snack.

Scientifically named the Harpodon nehereus, Bombay duck is also known as bummalo. The fish is most abundant in the Ganges Delta, the Arabian Sea, and Southern Asia. A small, narrow fish nearly transparent in color, it measures six to eight inches (15 to 20 centimeters) in length. The slimy sea creature is caught between the months of November and December, while it is processed from December and March.

There are many different ways to cook Bombay duck. Prior to preparing the dish, the fish is usually washed, boned, and dried in the sunlight. To dry the fish, the traditional method includes placing it on bamboo poles submerged within the sand, kept in place by horizontal thick ropes. This type of drying method can be witnessed in many food markets.


Some chefs prepare bummalo fish by grinding its body, as well as occasionally its soft, chewable bones, into a pulp before cooking it. Others prefer to batter the fish and deep-fry it. In India and the United Kingdom, Bombay duck is filleted without its tail, skeleton, fins, and head. After the meat is sectioned into rectangles, they are soaked in a brine solution, dried for two days, pressed, further dried, then bundled, and packaged for sale.

In Indian cuisine, bummalo is considered a delicacy, and is usually used as a salted relish, often paired with curry. When cooked until crunchy and crisp, it may be eaten as a snack food. It can also be made into a pickle. In China, the fish is commonly fried with flour, salt, and pepper. Once cooked, the aroma of the dish is very strong, and usually suppressed by an airtight container.

The origins of the name of the dish are officially unknown, though stories vary by region. Some say that it is after the Hindi word for mail, dak, due to the dish's pungent odor reminiscent of the wooden railroad cars of the Bombay mail train. Others claim that the term bummalo fish sounded rude when offered as a meal, so the Victorians took to calling the food a similar name to Digby chick, or dried herring. Other names for the food in various global regions include bamaloh, loita, bombil, and bumla.

A common bombay duck recipe calls for the desired amount of fish to be chopped into small pieces and fried in oil. The pieces are then drained and combined with a stir-fry of pre-fried golden onions, garlic cloves, and dried chilies. After a few minutes of stir-frying, lemon juice and salt can be added to taste prior to serving.


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