(F. Hamilton, 1822)
The Bombay duck or bummalo (Harpadon nehereus, Bengali: bamaloh or loytta, Gujarati: bumla, Marathi: bombil, Sinhala: bombeli, Urdu: بمبل مچھلی) is, despite its name, not a duck but a lizardfish. It is native to the waters between Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and Kutch in the Arabian Sea, and a small number are also found in the Bay of Bengal. Great numbers are also caught in the South China Sea. The fish is often dried and salted before it is consumed, as its meat does not have a distinctive taste of its own. After drying, the odour of the fish is extremely powerful, and it is usually transported in air-tight containers. Fresh fish are usually fried and served as a starter. In Mumbai, Konkan, and the western coastal areas in India, this dish is popularly known as "Bombil fry".
The origin of the term "Bombay duck" is uncertain. One popular etymology relates to railways. The shoals of fish around the Eurasian continent were separated when the Indian plate moved into it, dividing the species along the coasts of eastern and western India. When the rail links started on the Indian subcontinent, people from eastern Bengal were made aware of the great availability of the locally prized fish on India's western coasts and began importing them by the railways. Since the smell of the dried fish was overpowering, its transportation was later consigned to the mail train; the Bombay Mail (or Bombay Daak) thus reeked of the fish smell and "You smell like the Bombay Daak" was a common term in use in the days of the British Raj. In Bombay, the local English speakers then called it so, but it was eventually corrupted into "Bombay duck". Nonetheless, the Oxford English Dictionary dates "Bombay duck" to at least 1850, two years before the first railroad in Bombay was constructed, making this explanation unlikely.
According to local Bangladeshi stories, the term Bombay duck was first coined by Robert Clive, after he tasted a piece during his conquest of Bengal. It is said that he associated the pungent smell with that of the newspapers and mail which would come into the cantonments from Bombay. The term was later popularized among the British public by its appearance in Indian restaurants in the UK.
European Union import restrictions
In 1997, Bombay duck was banned by the European Commission (EC) of the European Union. The EC admitted that it had no "sanitary" evidence against the product and the UK Public Health Laboratory Service confirmed no cases of food poisoning had been recorded, or bacterial contamination had not been associated with Bombay duck. It was banned because the EC only allows fish imports from India from approved freezing and canning factories, and Bombay duck is not produced in factories. Before the ban, consumption in the United Kingdom was over 13 tonnes per year.
According to the "Save Bombay Duck" campaign, the Indian High Commission approached the European Commission about the ban. The EC adjusted the regulations so that the fish can still be dried in the open air, but has to be packed in an "EC approved" packing station. A Birmingham wholesale merchant located a packing source in Mumbai, and the product became available again in the United Kingdom.
Bombay duck is available fresh in Canada in cities with large Indian populations, such as Toronto and Montreal, and is generally known as bumla. Although mainly popular with Indians from Bengal, southern Gujarat, coastal Maharashtra, Goa, and Karnataka, it is increasingly consumed by the other South Asian populations, Bangladeshis in particular.
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- duck, n.1. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1989; online version December 2011. Accessed 2 February 2012.
- IR History: Early Days - I. Indian Railways Fan Club website. Accessed 2 February 2012.
- Toby Rendrag (sir, pseud.), Poems, original, lyrical, and satirical, containing Indian reminiscences of the late sir Toby Rendrag, Publ. 1829 W. Boyls page 26
- A. Clark, William Combe, Paddy Hew: a poem : from the brain of Timothy Tarpaulin, Printed for Whittingham and Arliss, 1815, 195 pages, page 86
- "Save Bombay Duck". Bombay-duck.co.uk. 2003-12-16. Retrieved 2009-07-25.