There’s something fishy about Basa
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”.