Bombay duck, or bombil as it is called locally, is one of Pakistan’s iconic and differentiating culinary experiences. This charmingly misnamed delicacy is actually a fish, whose pungent odor is part of that special love-it-or-hate it-factor.
It got its name in the days of the British era, from being transported on an iconic train, the Bombay duck – bombil, duck is the Urdu word for mail. The term was then bastardized to duck.
Bombil is a highly seasonal fish and is usually available around the monsoon period. Unfortunately, the fish is rapidly disappearing from Pakistan’s coastal waters, driven away by a lethal combination of overfishing and climate change.
It has a strong, fishy, and excessively salty taste with a brittle, crumbly texture. Bombil is very tricky to cook and only experience cooks can achieve the best out of it.
English Name: Bombay Duck
Local Name: Bombil
Scientific Name: Harpadon nehereus
Bombay Duck is a Sea fish that lives in benthic regions of offshore waters, also in deltas of rivers to feed during monsoons.
Bombay Duck is caught using Bottom Trawls.
It is a sea fish that has scales on the body. The body is elongated and compressed, scales present only on the posterior half of the body, mouth very wide, armed with slender, recurved, and depressible teeth of unequal size, pelvic fins reaching to or near the origin of anal fin.
It is dull, translucent gray or brown with small, dark speckles.
On average, the Bombay Duck size range is 100 to 200 grams per fish. However, other sizes are also occasionally available.
Bombay Duck is a highly delicate fish and is only preferred for whole and gutted cutting. Slices and boneless fillets are not recommended.
Approx. Cutting Yields
Headless and Gutted: 60%
There are myriad ways to cook, prepare and season this pink-skinned fish. Most seafood-loving communities of Pakistan such as Parsis, Memons, Urdu speaking, and Agha khan is found Bombay duck intrinsic to their cuisine.
Few people grind it into a vinegary chutney or roast and fry it, sometimes stuffing it with a bellyful of tiny prawns. On the other hand, some fry it into a bhaji (fritter) while others stir fresh greens into the dried version or cook it with an onion tamarind masala.
Fresh Bombay duck is also made into a gravied patio (pickle), or sometimes eaten as salty khaara boomla that’s served in a pale, creamy gravy pearled with onions and eaten with rice.
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