Bombay duck isn’t actually a duck

The Bombay duck, although the name may sound misleading, it is actually a fish which is found in the coasts of Mumbai as well as Bengal and Orissa. In Mumbai, the Bombay duck (or bombil as it is locally called) is one of its most delicious culinary experiences. It is a fish with a very pungent odour and you may either hate it or love it but it is very much a part of the soul of Mumbai.

The fish gets its name from the time of the British rule in India where the iconic train called the “Bombay Daak”, ‘daak’ being the Hindi word for mail. Over the years, with popular use became the work duck and hence we now know it as the Bombay Duck. There is another legend that the damp and pungent smell of the fish reminded the British of the damp wooden floors of the Bombay daak train or the mail train. Hence the name “Bombay duck”

The fish can be eaten in its true form or it is dried in a special method. You may get the fish in West Bengal where it is known as the ‘Lotey’ fish. But its not much of a favorite in Bengal. Further it is seen that the people in Bengal associate the fish that they buy or eat with their status in the society. For instance, if a family buys the Ilish fish (hilsa) which costs around Rs.1000 per kg, it is a significance of their high status in the society. Compared to this, if they purchase one kg of Lotey fish for Rs.80 there is an internal feeling of inferiority or shame.

The Bombay Duck is also known as the lizard fish as they are shaped like big lizards and taste sublime. They are very soft and fresh with one central bone and no nuisance of other tiny bones while eating. The fish is salted and dried in the sun which adds a special flavor to the air that we breathe in the Mumbai coasts. This smell can be loved or hated by many.

Since the fish has a very pungent smell, it is consumed with daal and curries. The fish was loved so much by the British that even till the year 1997, they used to import it from India. After 1997, the European Union decided to ban the Bombay duck as the method of the drying and preparation didn’t meet their quality and hygiene standards. This is actually true, if you have a look at how the fish is dried under the open sun and dust of the Mumbai beaches, you would very much agree to the decisions of the Europeans. But we Indian are much more accustomed to this, so it’s not much of a problem for us. Is it??

If you ever have been to Mumbai or planning to, make sure to try the dried Bombay duck which will be an acquired taste for you. The fresh version will be favored by anyone who likes fish but the dried version can be butter fried and with the central bone removed, it can be marinated with spices and then crisply fried with rice flour.

Here is a recipe that you can try with the Bombay duck:

Fresh Bombay Duck Fry

  • 6 Bombay Ducks (heads and central bone removed, butter fried)
  • Turmeric Powder – 1 Tsp
  • Salt – 1 Tsp
  • Rice Flour – 1 Cup
  • Garlic Powder – 1 Tsp
  • Chili Powder – 1 Tsp


  1. Warp the butter-fried fished in paper tissues and place a weight over it.
  2. Remove any excess water from the fish and keep it away for 20 Mins
  3. Except the rice flour, marinate the fish with all the ingredients.
  4. After that, cover the fish with rice flour.
  5. Deep fry the fish till they are golden brown for three – four minutes
  6. Remove any extra oil with paper towels
  7. Eat as snacks or with rice and dal.

Bon appetite!!