The origin of the term "Bombay duck" is uncertain. Some authors advance the theory that, during the British Raj, the fish was often transported by rail after drying. The story goes that the train compartments of the Bombay Dak (in English, the Bombay Mail) would smell of the fish, consequently leading the British to euphemistically refer to the peculiar smell as the "Bombay Dak". A variant of the story is that, though the fish weren't transported on the train, it smelt strongly because of the rotting railway sleepers over which it travelled, and this was thought to resemble the smell of the drying fish. In either case, this was supposedly corrupted into "Bombay duck". Although the likelihood of this origin is questionable, it does have the authority of a BBC Radio 4 interview in August 2006.
Despite the rather unpleasant odour of the fish, it is often considered to be a delicacy by connoisseurs of Indian cuisine. If freshly caught, it is sometimes eaten fried in a batter; and in its dried form, it is commonly eaten in a curry. It is also prepared as a pickle. The bones of the fish are soft and easily chewable.
European Union restrictions on imports
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 that there are no recorded cases of food poisoning, or bacterial contamination, associated with Bombay Duck. It was banned because the EC only allows fish imports from India from approved freezing and canning factories. Bombay Duck is not produced in factories.
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. Now a Birmingham wholesale merchant has found a packing source in Mumbai/Bombay and the product is again available.
The BBC, notes that consumption in the United Kingdom prior to the ban was over 13 tonnes per year.
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 southern Gujarat, it is increasingly consumed by the other South Asian populations.
According to Hindu mythology, the Bombay duck was the only marine animal that did not help Rama in the building of the bridge between India and Sri Lanka. As a consequence, its bones were mashed to a pulp and the fish condemned.