A basa fish is a type of catfish found in southeast Asia, mainly in Vietnam. The fish is valued for its appeal as a food source, especially in mass markets elsewhere in the world, including the United States. The basa fish can be caught wild as adults, but most are raised in captivity after being caught as fry.
Most basa fish farmed in Vietnam are done so by local farmers along the Mekong River. They are raised in pens that use the natural flow from the river to remove any impurities that may build up over time. Though most catfish varieties do not like strong currents, the basa fish does not seem to mind them, but actually may prefer them. This technique offers a number of advantages for the farmer and increases the reputation of the fish's flavor, if not its value as well.
Known for its mild taste and white, flaky meat, the basa fish is beginning to challenge other sorts of catfish around the world as the preferred food catfish. The method of raising the catfish in the Mekong River has helped it create a following among those who like fish. Most feel the basa fish has a "cleaner" taste than most other forms of farm-raised fish, because of new water constantly flowing in to their pens.
Consumers in the United States were introduced to the fish in 1994, after the trade embargo with Vietnam was finally lifted. Though it took some time for the basa fish to gain a following in the United States, today it has become a serious concern of domestic catfish producers. It is cheaper than domestic catfish, with no noticeable decrease in quality. This has caused some large restaurants and resorts to switch to serving the basa fish, or something that resembles the fish.
For consumers who wish to try basa, it is important to remember that not all catfish labeled as basa fish are true representatives of the species. In fact, most of them are a different species of Asian catfish called tra. These fish are hardier and easier to raise than basa fish and therefore have become the fish of choice for many farmers, even though the quality of meat is supposed to be inferior to basa fish. For those confused, the bottom line is that if you are buying imported catfish for less than $5 US Dollars (USD) per pound, then it is likely not a true basa fish, not matter what the label says.