Bombay Duck Soup

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

These Bombay ducks look pretty ferocious, eh? Good thing they aren't moving anymore, or they might snap off my fingers! I think they could be the star of some B grade horror movie. Can you see them wriggling around, snake-like, wreaking havoc on unsuspecting teenagers skinny dipping in a lake? Would have to make them much bigger though, since these cute little critters are only about eight inches long. But boy, they sure don't need extra teeth!

Here's a closer shot of those impressive jaws:
Photobucket Photobucket
Obviously, Bombay ducks aren't ducks. Since fake doctors are called quack doctors, that would make fake ducks . . . quack ducks . . . . . .? Never mind. Mum called Bombay ducks '硬魚', which means 'hard fish'. This name is also rather weird because the fish is anything but hard. The meat is soft as silken tofu and the bones are all soft cartilage. It's like eating fish flavoured tofu which you can, if you want to, sort of slurp and suck off the bones. Oh, by the way, the Bombay ducks would like to wish you a Merry Christmas, before they get eaten up:







Apparently, Teochews love hard fish and Indians love Bombay ducks. I can't speak on behalf of Indians but as a 100% pedigree Teochew, I can vouch that my entire family loves hard fish. It's not a very common fish, certainly not something that I can find everyday. And they're sold only at markets and never at supermarkets. Or at least, I've never seen any at the supermarkets I go to.

PhotobucketWhenever I see Bombay ducks, I never pass up the chance to grab some. Like last Sunday when I crawled out of bed at noon and finally popped round to the market at one o'clock. At that hour, I was practically the only shopper around, and the stalls were all either closed or closing. I was thinking there wasn't anything I wanted to buy when I spotted the fishmonger lady taking a box of hard fish to the fridge.

PhotobucketHey! I want that!

Phew! Just in time. Good thing I got out of bed early.

I always make a very simple soup with Bombay ducks. The fish has lots of flavour, so I just chuck it in boiling water – no stock needed – and add a bit of soya sauce, a dash of pepper, and deep fried shallots and something green as garnish. For those who love spicy and sour dips, a mix of thinly sliced chilli padis, lime juice and soya sauce makes a wonderful complement to the fish. It's simple, tasty and healthy. Not bad for a quack duck. Not bad at all.

(Recipe for 2 persons)

8 Bombay ducks (硬魚)
450 ml water
1 tsp soya sauce, for marinating fish
1½ tsp soya sauce or to taste, for seasoning soup
1 tsp deep fried shallots
1 sprig spring onion, diced
dash of white pepper
4 chilli padis, thinly sliced
juice of 2 calamansi (small) limes
1 tbsp soya sauce

PhotobucketRemove fish head, guts and fins. Rinse and drain. Cut each fish crosswise into 3 pieces. Marinate with 1 tsp soya sauce for 10-15 minutes. Make dip if using. Bring water to a boil. Add fish (without marinade) and 1½ tsp soya sauce. Bring back to a boil. Stir gently to make sure soup boils evenly. Once it does, turn off the heat at once or fish would be overcooked. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with spring onion and deep fried shallots. Add dash of white pepper. Serve.


(( Ms. K )) said...

Omg, I never see such a thing before.
They look scary but interesting.

Blur Ting said...

You make it sound really fun (and yummy) to eat this. I'm quite sure I'll be looking for them when I visit the wet market this weekend. I can't believe a Teochew like me who grew up eating all kinds of steamed fish hasn't tasted the Bombay Duck!

KT said...

Hi Ms. K, thanks for dropping by.

Hi Blur Ting, we're almost family? Kakinang!

Eileen. 静 said... being half a teochew ( my dad ) have never seen this ever in my life as well.. it seems kinda 'eel' like .. will ask my mum if she has ever bought it.. :)

KT said...

Hi Eileen, yes, the fish is a rather eel-like because it doesn't have scales and is long and round. It's also very flexible/slithery like eels because all its bones are soft, not hard.

Anonymous said...

It's called 佃鱼 in Chinese, also known as tofu fish. Google the Chinese name and you can find info on it... thanks for sharing this dish!

KT said...

Yes, my mother also called it tofu fish. First time I come across 佃鱼, though.

mscrafty said...

I love this fish too!! it's my favouritest.

gusteng said...

this is interesting blog..i'm suddenly become yr instant fan.
u rawk kt!!

KT said...

Gosh, thanks, gusteng.

Jp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jp said...

ya... pronounced as "diong herr" in teochew... sometimes we get this dish on dining table but personally don't like it... i remember it taste quite fishy or weird texture... common fish for teochews and some hokkiens

KT said...

Hi Jp, maybe the fish wasn't fresh? Buy only from fish mongers you trust, and eat the fish on the day you buy it. Some ginger and scallions would help reduce the fishiness.

Russell said...

Wow my grandmother used to boil it in soup with tang hoon for my family years ago, then she didn't for many years and i never knew what the fish was.

A short while back I chanced upon the fish at a supermarket near NTU at jurong. It was labeled as 软鱼 and i took a picture of it but none of my friends could identify it. Today when i googled translucent soft fish i saw your blog post. So now i know what the fish is, and how to cook it! Thanks KT!

KT said...

You're welcome, Russell. I sometimes add tang hoon to my bombay duck soup, too. That makes an easy, complete meal.

petunialee said...

I tried this today. The family didn't like the fine bones... but the soup was super tasty.

I replaced spring onion with dill.

KT said...

Hi Petunia, if the fish is overcooked, the fine bones come off from the centre bone when you eat the fish. That's not nice at all. The trick is to cook the fish 90%, then turn off the heat. By the time you put the soup into serving bowls, add a bit of garnish, and sit down and eat, it would be just right.

shogun said...

i'm mauritian and we also like bombay ducks but we don't get the fresh one we only have them imported from india and alresy dried, i'd also like to say that when it's dry it has a really nasty smell, but it's also delicious. The soup ooks grat and i'm sure it's tasty..

KT said...

Hi shogun

How do you eat dried Bombay ducks?

Anonymous said...

u crack me up! Tried ur salted fish tofu soup and is looking forward to try more of your other dishes! Keep all the good stuff coming!

arka said...

Where can i get this fish in Singapore? Thanks!

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