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Heard of the Pangasius?

Updated: May 27, 2022

A mild-flavoured, almost tasteless, white-fleshed fish known as Basa Fish is commonly used in Asian dishes. What's interesting is, we often get it in local fish and chips shop due to its price, and people call it "Dory" here. Does this ring a bell?

Who doesn't love a nice, crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside slice of fish?

I am not an expert in fish, but I am very particular when it comes to eating my fish. Long before I learnt that fresh Basa Fish can be tasty, I boycotted having fish and chips after one unpleasant experience. The "Dory" I had for my "western" dinner dish turned out to be a very crusty slice of slimy, mushy fish. It felt as if the fish meat had disintegrated. Needless to say, I was really put off by that.

Recently, I learnt that Dory isn't the actual fish used in fish and chips shop, but it's Basa, and restaurants call it by different names when they ordered their stock. But having said this, not all restaurants or fish and chips shop use Basa for the fish in that dish. One common term known here is "cream dory", which refers to the same Basa Fish. Hence, "Dory" in short. In different parts of Asia, it is called sutchi, ikan patin, swai, tra, panga, pangas or pangasius, and 巴丁 (ba-ding) in Chinese.

A species of catfish in the family Pangasiidae, this fish has become increasingly popular in dishes all around the globe.

Pangasius is native to the Mekong and Chao Phraya basins in Mainland Southeast Asia. A species of shark catfish (family Pangaiidae), it is not a shark. It is popularly cultivated and marketed as a cheaper alternative to other white fish such as cod, halibut or haddock. Pangasius can be found in large and small supermarkets, in both fresh and frozen forms, under the name Basa. The commercially viable fish is recognised as a superior aquaculture species for tropical regions, and is second only to tilapia in the freshwater aquaculture whitefish market worldwide. Worthy of note is the fact that pangasius farming has been developing towards environmentally friendly, responsible and sustainable farming methods.

"The modern pangasius industry developed in Vietnam during the late 1990s. Today Vietnam produces over 1 million metric tons (MT) of pangasius annually and exports the product to over 120 countries. Pangasius aquaculture in Vietnam represents the highest average production, ranging 200 to 400 MT/hectare/crop, ever recorded for the primary production sector while creating employment for over 180,000 rural poor and generating an export income exceeding $1.4 billion in 2010, according to author Sena De Silva." (Global Seafood Alliance)

The body of the Basa is stout and heavy. Its rounded head is broader than it is long, with the blunt snout having a white band on its muzzle. Adult fish can grow to a maximum length of up to 130 cm in length and weigh up to a maximum of 44 kg. Large adults are uniformly grey; the fins dark grey or black. In their native environment, Basa is a freshwater fish that lives in tropical climate, and moves upstream during the flood season to spawn, and returns downstream to seek rearing habitats when the water recedes.

Pangasius is a great choice for anyone who pays attention to a healthy diet. It is a good source of Omega-3, rich in protein, low in saturated fat, low in cholesterol, has no carbohydrates nor sodium. As always, there are some myths about the fish -- that the panga is teeming with high levels of poisons and bacteria; and that it is injected with hormones derived from urine. According to the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), these are unfounded. Singapore has very stringent food safety standards in regard to imported fish including sutchi catfish or sutchi, basa fish, etc. Tests are conducted by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) at the point of import to ensure that all food comply with the safety requirements.

With more being concerned about the environment and going green, the Basa is one fish that meets the efficiency in feed conversion -- in which animals convert feed to the desired output -- thus entailing a smaller carbon footprint and reduced environmental impact to our planet. One thing to look out for to know if your farmed fish is sustainably sourced, is an ASC-certified label. Changi Fish Mart is proud to say that we work with a trusted supplier who has been awarded ISO 22000 Food Safety and SS590 (HACCP) certifications. Their factories in Vietnam and Indonesia have been certified with FDA/EU/China export code, by the Aquaculture Steward Council (ASC) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC), meeting international food standards and product quality control (ISO 9001). In addition, to cater to diverse consumers, the factories are Halal certified in food handling, processing and preparation methods.

Lastly, Basa Fish is really versatile and easy to cook. Since the flesh takes in the flavour from the sauce it is cooked in, I just love how I can simply throw some fish steak into an assam curry or pan fry the fillet with minimal fuss (using a bit of salt and pepper to marinate). Quick meals are so doable with the convenient, ready-to-use fish found here. Instant noodles and fast food are quite a thing of the past, gladly.

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