If Delhi swears by its chola bhatura, Mumbai’s foodscape is synonymous with Bombay duck. They say you haven’t really been to Mumbai if you haven’t tried Bombay duck or bombil. It’s a fish, not a duck, and with such a fishy name, there is another unique thing about it. It is the ugliest fish ever! No kidding. This ‘lizard fish’ looks not even remotely close to a submissive duck or a helpless fish. When I moved to Mumbai, it was the first one my list to try. However, when I actually got around to buying the fish, I was taken aback by its rather ghastly appearance. No doubt, the fish is considered a coastal delicacy and is an integral part of the city’s cuisine. And it must taste irresistible after one musters up the courage to look beyond its looks. But I could not!
Then life came a full circle. One day I accidentally binged on some fish at my friend’s place. The fish turned out to be the very dreaded bombil I had given up on. As I discovered, it’s indeed a delicacy that deserves all the praise and adoration Mumbaikars heap on it. A bit salty on the palate and more of an acquired taste. I loved it instantly, so for me the only challenge was getting used to its sight! You could debone and fry the wobbly flesh to a crisp. It also has a dried version made by hanging the fish on clothesline along the coast, which gives out a salty smell that is pretty much recognisable from the moment you near the Mumbai coastline. Dried fish can also be baked and crumbled over dal and rice. No matter how it looks or smells, this Mumbai special fish is really worth trying.
Bombil fry is very simple to make. Most of the hard work is cleaning the fish—removing the head, skin and stomach. It needs to be pat dried well as it has high water content. Once marinated and fried, this otherwise ugly fish magically transforms to a very tempting version of itself. It’s almost by reflex that you pick up piece after piece immediately and start nibbling your way through it. I like to add some dried coconut in the coating and dried curry leaves powder to the marinade to give it a more distinct coastal flavour.
Prep Time: 20 minutes | Cook Time: 20 minutes | Level of Difficulty: Easy | Serving Size: 2