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Indian chef fries fish with bare hands

There’s a scientific explanation to why Delhi man’s fingers do not get burnt

Image Credit: Karuna Madan/Gulf News
Prem Kumar fries fish for about 1,000 customers each evening. The Delhi chef learntfrom his father the art of dipping his fingers in hot cooking oil without getting burnt.
Gulf News

New Delhi: A chef in central Delhi has customers literally eating out of his hand. His ability to fry fish with bare hands in boiling hot cooking oil draws crowds from far and wide to his street restaurant.

With his “heatproof” hands, Prem Kumar, 65, prepares appetising fried fish catering to about 1,000 customers each evening. Many visitors come to see his rare skill of being able to dip his fingers into scorching oil while frying fish. The chef’s daily stunts have earned him quite a fan following in the backstreets of Karol Bagh.


Kumar sells about 150 kilograms of deep fried fish on a given day. Additionally, he now serves other popular Indian delicacies such as seekh kabab, mutton tikka, paneer tikka and tandoori aloo.

Every single visitor to his restaurant request him to perform the stunt before placing an order.

“I do not fry fish with hands all the time, its only when customers ask me for it. I normally use kitchen utensils such as tongs etc but with people coming from all across India and requesting me to do hand frying, I cannot say no,” Kumar tell Gulf News.

Kumar’s father started the eatery in 1960 and passed on the baton to him 25 years ago. Amazingly, neither Kumar nor his father, who performed the same gimmick, suffered any burns or blisters during years of their business.

Asked how he does it, Kumar says, “this is no miracle or God gift. It has come through a lot of practice over the years. As a child, I saw my father doing it and got curious how he could pull off that feat. I started with dipping my one finger in the boiling oil, then two and so on. I realised that it did not cause any burns or injury whatsoever. Over the years, I built up confidence and now it is as easy for me as breathing.”

Science has another answer for it — the Leidenfrost effect.

The Leidenfrost effect allows people to submerge their hands in extremely hot liquids without any ill effects.

The dunker has to dip his hands first in water and then in the hot liquid, the effect then kicks in. The way it works is by heating the water surrounding the skin until it turns to steam. It, in effect, creates a protective barrier of steam that stops the hot liquid from touching the skin. This only works for a short time though. So it is possible to put your hand even into a boiling pot of lead without getting hurt.

Somesh Pattnaik from Delhi finds it incredible to see how Kumar plucks the fish out of the pan.

“It is unbelievable how he hand-fries fish fingers, how he plunges his bare hand into oil heated to 200C and retrieves frying fish. This is obviously related to firewalking, where the phenomenon is due to small bubbles of insulating moisture or sweat creating a barrier between the skin and the super heated medium. One can pour a couple of drops of cold water onto a red hot electric cooker ring while wearing glasses to see the effect for oneself. It is also not much different from lying on a bed of nails. It is just mind over matter,” Pattnaik reasons out.

Asked if people raise hygiene concerns at his eatery, Kumar sayshis hands are “supremely sanitised” before he dips them into the scorching oil.

On second thoughts, the hot oil would kill any bacteria on his hands, if at all there is any, in seconds he says.

Kumar’s 26-year-old son Deepak Kumar, who works in the family business, agrees.

“To all the people saying how unhygienic it is, if the oil is 200C, it will kill anything that might be on his hands,” says Deepak.

Kumar hopes his son will learn the “trick of the trade” from him and keep the rich family tradition alive.

“I would like him to practise the skill of hand frying but so far he has not shown any interest. He can do it easily because it runs in our family,” Kumar says.