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.