Guess what is Bombay duck? Any normal person will think that it must be a duck living in the water bodies around Bombay. There is a surprise. It is a fish!!!
In fact Bombay duck or Bummalo is a fish belonging to lizardfish family. In the areas around Mumbai and Konkan, this fish is found in plenty in the Arabian sea and is very popular among the fish eating people.
The fish is often dried and salted before it is consumed. Generally it is consumed in the fried and curry forms. After drying, the odour of the fish is extremely powerful, and it must consequently be transported in air-tight containers.
Origin of its name as Bombay duck is not certain. Actually, according to one story, the fish was transported in the Bombay Dak train to Calcutta. Dak here means Bombay Mail. Its odor is so strong that Britishers began calling it Bombay Dak which became spoiled to Bombay Duck.
According to local Bangladeshi stories, the term Bombay duck called “Shootkie” by Bangladeshis was first coined by Robert Clive, after tasting a piece of it after 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 popularized among the British public by its appearance in Indian restaurants (which are in fact, mostly Bangladeshi owned) across the country.
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. Its body bones are very fragile and break on slight twist. So, special care is taken while preparing the dish.
Though the fish is mostly caught in Arabian Sea, small quantities are caught in Bay of Bengal. In Bengal it is called bamaloh or loita. In Gujarati it is called bumla & in Marathi it is called Bombil.
Once I was attending a training on sea safety at Coast Guards office situated near Mallet Ferry Wharf in Bombay (near Docks). Extensive fish catch in trawlers is unloaded here and distributed to Bombay. There I saw boats upon boats on which this fish was drying on the lines. It seemed that buntings are waving on the boats. I also saw how the baskets of fish were tossed from boats and caught up by the men on the wharf platform. This job was so much perfected by the fishermen. There were quintessential fisherwomen with massive buttocks and one end of saris tucked between them. For two or three days whenever there was a break from training I used to visit the wharf. There was a great hustle and bustle there which subsided only in the noon. There were fishes lying on the bridge road to wharf. Urchins wandering there were collecting them and I can safely say they had bags full of them.
Below is the picture of Ferry wharf.