Bombil Fry Parsi Style, Significant Yet Neglected

The Parsi bombil fry, the significant yet often-neglected Bombay duck delicacy is the less talked about cousin in the coastal culinary world of Mumbai.

And this is unfortunate because it holds its own against the more famous Malvani and Gomantak cousins.

It’s a problem of numbers I think, quite like the existential number problem the Parsis themselves face as a community.

While just one restaurant in Mumbai serves a Parsi style bombil fry, there are hundreds serving the Malvani and Gomantak versions. And because of these numbers, reams of newsprint are devoted to them by default.

To make things worse, they are firmly established in people’s minds as a coastal people. So it would be natural to associate Mumbai’s favorite fish, the humble bombil or Bombay duck, as their food. Ouch, that hurts.

Because people forget that Parsis are coastal people too. Remember they landed on the coast of Gujarat more than a millennia ago?

Most of them live in coastal Mumbai now and bombil happens to be their favorite fish too.

The Parsi bombil fry is very different from the ‘commoner-cousins’ version.

To begin with, they don’t beat the shit out of it and flatten it to remove all the moisture. They keep it whole. And this makes it more succulent because all the juices get sealed inside.

And when fried, the outside turns crisp and the inside stays oh so moist and soft and succulent. You can actually taste the bombil, not the batter it’s fried in. Melt in the mouth would be a mere cliché to describe it.

Clearly in my opinion, it’s in a league of its own. And the pity is that’s it’s not commonly available.

An option would be to make it at home. It’s not rocket science that you won’t be able to fix it the way the Parsis do. Here’s one recipe for you to start with.

Parsi bombil fry recipe

Ingredients: 10-12 fresh Bombay ducks/bombils, cleaned; 2 tsp red chilly powder; 1 tsp cumin/jeera powder; ½ tsp turmeric/haldi powder; 1 tsp salt; 1 ½ tsp vinegar (optional); 2 eggs, beaten; ½ cup refined flour/maida; 1 cup breadcrumbs or semolina/rava; oil for frying.

Method: Combine the chilly, cumin, turmeric powders with vinegar and salt. Apply on the bombils and let them marinate for an hour. Separately, combine the refined flour with the beaten eggs to make a batter. Then take a single bombil, dip it in the batter, coat it with either breadcrumbs or semolina, and deep fry in hot oil for a few minutes or until it turns golden. Repeat with the rest of the bombils.

The other option would be to trudge all the way to Ballard Pier and have it at the only restaurant in Mumbai that serves it daily on their menu. Britannia does an exemplary version and I am a big fan of their bombil fry.

And I suggest you frequent this place often because it is destined to close once the 80+-year-old brothers running it move on, as the next generation doesn’t want anything to do with this iconic establishment.

If that isn’t bad news, what is?

Britannia. Wakefield house, 11 Sprott Road, 16 Ballard Estate, Fort, Mumbai 400001. Tel: +91 (22) 22615264. Open 11.30 am – 3.30 pm. Closed on Sundays.

Nominated for Best Parsi Meal, CNNGo Best Eats 2010


8 thoughts on “Bombil Fry Parsi Style, Significant Yet Neglected

  1. Pingback: MBRB Recommends: The Monsoons in Your Kitchen! - My Big Red Bag

  2. that bit about the next generation not wanting anything to do with the Britannia legacy is very sad and really quite shocking…. one would imagine that place to be an easy goldmine..and im not even taking into account its cultural value..

    PS: the fried bombil is excellent

    PS2: nice blog, and will try out the recipes, thanks for putting them up into easy access.

    • yup, the britannia legacy on its last legs is truly going to be a foodies tragedy. thanks for taking the time to read my blog and commenting!

  3. People always talk about dhansak but really most Parsis love dhan dar patio, which is just dal chawal and spicy pickled prawn. YUM!

  4. Being Maharashtrian my family always cooked it when I was younger but I totally agree that people forget about Parsis enjoying coastal grub too. I’ve always enjoyed the Malwani cousin, its time to try the parsi one soon!

  5. Great recipe…totally agree not to beat the shit of that poor Bombil..leads to loss of flavor.However some folks might not like the cumin flavor in fish, keep that as optional too.

    • Hey Tushar, thanks for your comment. The Parsi style of bombil fry does use cumin, and of course it is optional 🙂

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