There’s some­thing fishy about Basa

India Today - - SIMPLY DELHI - by Sour­ish Bhat­tacharya, Ex­ec­u­tive Editor, Mail To­day

A cou­ple of years back I had cel­e­brated the virtues of Viet­namese basa from the Mekong river delta that had trav­elled all the way to the menu of In­dian restau­rants. The fish is soft, and melts in the mouth like cod. And it an­swers the prayers of all those weak­hearted folks who, un­like hilsa lovers, run away from the bones and the smell of fish. But it has ab­so­lutely no per­son­al­ity.

It doesn't in­spire sto­ries like the Chilean sea bass, the Scot­tish salmon, the Padma hilsa or the Hooghly bekti, yet it has found its way into restau­rants. Dis­cern­ing din­ers don't like it, which ex­plains why it has trig­gered a im­pas­sioned de­bate in the Face­book com­mu­nity Gourmet Planet.

And now, much af­ter Viet­namese basa ran into trou­ble with the World Wide Fund for Na­ture be­cause of the un­hy­gienic meth­ods used to pro­duce it in hu­mon­gous quan­ti­ties, de­spite be­ing cleared of its taint chefs and con­ser­va­tion­ists are rais­ing safety con­cerns all over again.

Thanks to the con­tro­versy, the cat ( ac­tu­ally, the cat­fish, for that

is basa's real iden­tity) is out of the bag. What passes off now as Viet­namese basa in restau­rants is, in fact, a fish that's be­ing farmed in grow­ing quan­ti­ties in Andhra Pradesh— it is called pun­gus, ob­vi­ously in­spired by the basa's bi­o­log­i­cal name, Pan­ga­sius bo­courti.

Restau­rant own­ers love it be­cause it is light on their pocket; chefs adore it be­cause it comes fil­leted and cleaned. The trou­ble for basa- lov­ing chefs is that there's re­sis­tance build­ing up against it. We could well be headed for a spell of “Any­thing But Basa”.

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