Friday, March 13, 2009

“Bombay Duck”

I cannot resist this final (for the time being) and famous Misleading Food Name. Bombay Duck is not a bird but a fish.The official name of the fish is Harpadon nehereus, and in various Indian dialects is bamaloh, bumla, or bombil. It is native to the waters of the coastline of South East Asia and Western India, and forms an important article of food for the poor. It is sold fresh or salted, and it is the latter that is known in Anglo-Indian cuisine as Bombay Duck.

Bombay Duck’s great claim to notoriety is its extraordinarily pungent smell, which manages to seep out of the most airtight container, and which is nothing at all like duck. The dried salted smelly crumbly fish was held in such great affection by returning British colonials (who used it as a relish to accompany their curries) that until 1997 over 13 tonnes a year were imported into England. In the fateful year of 1997 the European Commission of the European Union banned its importation under the rule (based on a vaguely sanitary justification) that denied any Indian fish not produced in “approved” canning or freezing facilities.

The name is slightly mysterious. One theory is that it derives from the Bombay Dak (the Bombay Mail train) which carried large quantities of the fish and consequently smelled strongly of it as did everything else carried by the train. The Bangladshi version of this that Clive of India himself gave it the name because of the smell of the newspapers that came from Bombay. It may of course have its origins in an ethnic-slur in the same way as Welsh Rabbit and some of the other examples we have considered this week.

This is how to use it:

“Bombay Ducks” or “Bummaloes”
Use the prepared kind sold at the Army and Navy Stores, Westminster, to eat with curry.
Toast these dried fish as you would bread, and send them to the table hot in a warm napkin – allow one apieces for each person, to put by his plate like a bit of toast, to eat with his curry, or to crumble over, eating the whole with a spoon.
It is nicest hot, but is also eaten cold.
If bought unprepared it means that each fish must be split and soaked before toasting, to draw out the salt.
The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie (1909)

Quotation for the Day.

“To-day have curry and rice for my dinner, and plenty of it as C—, my messmate, has got the gripes, and cannot eat his share.”
Entry in 1781, the Hon. J. Lindsay’s Imprisonment, in Lives of Lindsays,

1 comment:

Liz + Louka said...

Another misleading food name which I don't think you've blogged about is Colonial Goose, ie stuffed leg of lamb (or probably mutton, I guess).