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Eating bombil fry may be one of life’s most delightful epicurean experiences. Nothing quite prepares you for that moment of pure sensual pleasure when you sink your teeth into a crisp, somewhat flimsy rice flour cover, only to unearth the tenderest flesh to have greeted your taste buds. Many have had a long, steamy love affair with the endearingly misnamed ‘Bombay Duck’ – one of those deceptive culinary wonders that are not too attractive but taste sublime. And while the word instantly evokes mouth-watering images of the delicate fish ensconced in a golden-brown rava coating, restaurants around town have come up with a bunch of unique ways to tuck into the bombil.
Take, for instance, Pune’s go-to place for Konkan-style seafood, Fish Curry Rice – their bombil fry comes laced with some fiery green chilli ‘thhecha’, resulting in eye-watering pops of spice accompanying every bite of the otherwise mellow fish. Also check out their bomblacha bhujna – a quaint, highly elusive delicacy, which involves cooking pieces of bombil in a flavourful, green-brown gravy of a thickish consistency, prepared from coriander, onion, tomatoes, garlic, green chillies and the ingredient that screams ‘coastal’: Kokam. Best had with piping hot chapattis with a drizzle of oil.
Likewise, Fish N Bait dishes out ‘harnai bombil’, another traditional Malwani recipe starring a fiendishly good union of two beloved seafood components – gooey Bombay duck stuffed with fat prawns and fried gently. Meanwhile, Arctic’s renditions of bombil are in the form of finger foods, be it their bombil koliwada – spicy, crunchy, deep-fried bombil fillets – or the ‘Bombay duck pops’ – tasty fritters made from deboned, mashed bits of the fish.
Local Gastro Bar offers the Mumbai-origin fruit de mer with an ingenious South Indian twist. Think bombil marinated in a few sprinkles of aromatic Keralite ‘khada masala’, then crusted with rava and served with potato fries tossed in gunpowder ‘podi’ on the side – if there is one way to ‘Keralise’ the Bombay duck, it is this.
And, it is not just desi avatars that it seems to be taking on – a few establishments have gone on ahead and put global fusion spins on the bombil. The Little Door’s Italian take in their ‘bombil frittos’, for example, involves marinating the fish in a flavourful Mediterranean spice mix of oregano and rosemary, dipping it into a delish beer batter and deep-frying it – resulting in a scrumptious appetiser that comes served with garlic aioli. The Flour Works does a similar, slightly simpler batter-fried version with creamy, garlicky aioli.
Over at Blue Frog, Bombay duck is fried in a heady beer batter and accompanied by pickled veggies and a trifecta of yummy dips – a Bengali ‘kashundi’ mustard mayo, raw mango chutney and some sweet soy chilli. An equally quirky experiment is the bombil Thai fry at The Urban Foundry, imbued (but not overwhelmingly so) with the distinctive flavours of South East Asian spices, such as lemongrass, basil and galangal to lend a smooth fragrance to the fish, besides beautifully complementing its subtly sweet flavours.
The same chef creates a different type of sorcery with bombil at Stone Water Grill. Here, it features as one element of the Madras curry and saffron-infused seafood 'marinière' – a warm, velvety, creamy broth laden with pieces of Bombay duck, ringlets of squid and giant tiger prawns, coupled with hunks of crusty baguette slices dripping with garlic butter. And when you find the name ‘bombil’ flashing on the menu of one of the classiest restaurants in the city and incorporated into a quintessentially French holiday dish, you know that the humble Mumbaiyya lizardfish has truly come a long way.