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What is Basa Fish?

By Ken Black
Updated May 21, 2024
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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.

Is Basa Fish Healthy?

Because most basa fish are farmed in the strong currents of the Mekong River in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian waterways, they are less fatty than other fish. While different varieties thrive in bank reserved cages and bottom-feeding dens, the basa is fine with swimming in crowded cages with the powerful, natural flow of the river.

Not only does the basa have less fat, but it also has fewer calories per serving than some other fish. A typical 140-gram fillet serving of basa includes:

  • Calories: 206
  • Total Fat: 10 g
  • Cholesterol: 94 mg
  • Sodium: 170 mg
  • Potassium: 523 mg
  • Total Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Protein: 26 g

The basic nutrition facts are appealing on their own for basa, especially the 26 grams of protein for those who are trying to build macros. However, this Vietnamese fish has essential vitamins and minerals that are healthy for human consumption. The skin of the basa also has vitamin D, necessary for hair, nail, and bone strength. The entire fish carries plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, which may lower the risk of heart disease and are a healthy addition to a balanced diet.

What Kind of Fish Is Basa?

The basa fish is a specific catfish from the Chao Phraya and Mekong River areas in Southeast Asia. The particular type of catfish is called the Pangasius bocourti. The basa belongs to the Pangasiidae family of catfish. In the United States, the basa is more commonly referred to as the bocourti, rather than the basa, but it also goes by other names. You may hear this Southeast Asian fish called the Vietnamese cobbler, the pangasius, the swai, the river cobbler, or the basa pang.

Is Basa Fish Safe To Eat?

A significant concern with fish from other countries is that they are not regulated uniformly. While trade laws sometimes provide a bit of solidarity amongst regulations, there are few uniform standards. One of the main problems is the levels of heavy metals found in seafood in international waters. The good news is, basa is generally found to be within safe limits for heavy metals. However, there have been other issues of great concern.


Farming sometimes has debatable practices within international trade communities. Fish are often tested and have high levels of antibiotics. Antibiotics are overused to keep them safe from infection and bacteria from being farmed in close quarters. Feces, waste, decomposition, and water contaminants can create a damaging environment.


Basa frequently test well above safe limits for pharmaceutical drug levels for human consumption. Another reason why the fish test high for unsafe levels of drugs is the rivers and byways are dumping grounds for hazardous waste both up and downstream from basa farms.


Another potentially harmful issue is the bacteria that is transmitted in farming and processing. Vibrio bacteria, which is a common cause of food poisoning, is often linked to basa. Researchers and regulators are unsure if the basa carries this bacteria naturally or if it forms as part of processing outside the pharmaceutically controlled environment.

Is Basa Fish Expensive?

One of the reasons basa is less regulated and less controlled is that it is so inexpensive. This fish is a quality product that is known for its low cost because of ultra-farming. Buyers are comfortable with the risks involved due to the lower price point.

What Does Basa Fish Taste Like?

Basa is similar to other white fish varieties and less similar to catfish. This taste comparison may be surprising to fish connoisseurs because basa is a type of catfish. However, because it is farmed in the heavy currents of the rivers, it is far less fatty than traditional catfish.

Diners can expect the same mild fish flavor found in haddock, cod, or white fish. It is also similar in texture. Fork-firm fish fillets should flake off but have a bounce to their bite. It can be prepared in the same way as white fish varieties but at a much lower price point.

How Is Basa Cooked?

Because basa is notorious for carrying the Vibrio bacteria, proper storage, preparation, and cooking methods are integral. Be sure to buy seafood only from trustworthy venues. Store the fish at well below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to minimize the spread of bacteria. Wipe down all areas during preparation to ensure you do not cross-contaminate ingredients. Cook the fish to 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to reach a safe temperature for human consumption. A popular method of preparation is to poach a fillet of basa in lemon butter and garnish it with parsley.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a Basa fish?

Basa fish, scientifically known as Pangasius bocourti, is a type of catfish native to the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam and the Chao Phraya basin in Thailand. It's a freshwater fish that's become popular due to its mild flavor, firm texture, and affordability. Basa is often used in various cuisines as a substitute for more expensive whitefish.

Is Basa fish healthy to eat?

Yes, Basa fish is considered healthy to eat. It's low in calories and an excellent source of high-quality protein. Basa also contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, although in lower quantities compared to other oily fish. However, it's important to consider the source of Basa, as some farming practices may lead to contamination with pollutants or antibiotics.

How does Basa fish compare to other whitefish in terms of taste and texture?

Basa fish has a milder flavor and a softer texture compared to other whitefish like cod or haddock. Its subtle, sweet taste and smooth, firm flesh make it a versatile ingredient that can absorb flavors well during cooking. This adaptability makes Basa a preferred choice for a variety of recipes, from grilling to frying.

What are the environmental impacts of farming Basa fish?

Farming Basa fish can have significant environmental impacts, particularly in regions where regulations are lax. Issues such as water pollution, overuse of chemicals, and destruction of natural habitats are concerns. However, there are sustainable farming practices being implemented, and seeking out responsibly farmed Basa can mitigate these environmental effects.

How can I ensure I'm buying high-quality Basa fish?

To ensure you're buying high-quality Basa fish, look for certifications from reputable organizations that indicate responsible farming practices. The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) are examples of certifications to look for. Additionally, purchasing Basa from trusted retailers who can provide information about the fish's origin is advisable.

Can Basa fish be used in recipes that call for other types of whitefish?

Yes, Basa fish can be used as a substitute in recipes that call for other types of whitefish. Its mild flavor and firm texture make it suitable for a wide range of dishes, including those that require baking, frying, or poaching. Basa's ability to take on the flavors of spices and marinades makes it a versatile choice for many recipes.

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Discussion Comments

By anon948860 — On May 02, 2014

To anyone who talks about how bad this fish is because of the way it is "supposedly" handled: I hope you aren't hypocrites and all of the meat you eat is hunted and farm fed by you, I hope all the vegetables you eat are grown by you and you know exactly what you are eating. If not, you have no room to talk.

Do you really believe the chicken, beef, pork and turkeys are fed properly and treated well in a clean environment? Don't kid yourselves.

By anon947757 — On Apr 27, 2014

I am quickly posting again (post 29). When I last posted, there was nothing on the net about this, but check it out now as it is a proven problem. Also, I am an Australian and the fish I ate was in Australia, not the U.S., as some have suggested.

I work in the mining industry and each time I ate it, it was on a Friday night "fish and chips night." I have not been in a mine or or construction camp over here for over five years that still serves it, and I am guessing, for a very good reason. I have no problems with the hoki they serve now. I have been very scared to eat any fish, but eat as much fresh caught reef fish as possible without problems. Australian salmon is fine too, but for someone who could live on fish (I have lived on five different boats that I have owned). it still worries me daily. That was the sickest I have ever been, eating this and each time I said a prayer because I thought it was all over!

By anon945923 — On Apr 15, 2014

Seriously, it tastes exactly like rotting snake. We tried making soups and stews and no one can put it I their mouth. I think it should be removed. I know anyone who says it tastes good is lying. You can't cover up the gross taste. It doesn't even smell or taste like fresh fish.

By anon941220 — On Mar 21, 2014

I think most of the negative comments come from US catfish producers. While I understand that they are trying to protect their livelihood, they are getting their butts kicked by the Vietnamese basa producers.

Basa is much better tasting than American catfish. I think it's because it's raised in pens in fast flowing water, not in disgusting, stinking catfish ponds (ever been to a catfish farm? If so, you'll know exactly what I mean). The allusion to human or animal waste in the water is a red herring. In fact, US farm raised catfish eat large amounts of their own excrement. Neither scenario is appetizing, but what really counts is bacteria count in the meat. I have not seen any data from an unbiased source that shows high bacteria count in basa. Cook it appropriately, and even that is not a concern.

Basa is delicious. I like it much better than US farm raised catfish, and I even like it better than wild caught catfish (caught by me, so I know they're wild). The flavor is much milder, cleaner and sweeter than catfish.

The US catfish farmers (again, I do have sympathy for them) can't supply a better product, so they've had to resort to lobbying for protectionism, and for badmouthing the competition. Whenever I hear any seller of anything bad mouth the competition, I know he's already lost the quality and/or value argument (I've run a $100M + business, I know what I'm talking about).

By anon935305 — On Feb 24, 2014

@anon300868: For your information, seafood refers to all water born animals: fish, shrimp, clams,crabs, lobsters and that includes fresh water as well. Just so you know.

By anon351007 — On Oct 10, 2013

Basa has the consistency of jelly. I am disgusted with the quality of food on offer now, as profit margins become the number one priority. When I was a kid, you could order "fish and chips" and expect to get cod as a minimum. These days you have to ask if you're really getting fish. Basa tastes like a toilet because it comes from a toilet. Nil texture, gross. Don't do it to yourself.

By anon347298 — On Sep 05, 2013

I had basa for the first time when in Canada. It was the most wonderful fish I had tasted in a while. Very light - served with a butter and lemon sauce. I tried in vain when I returned to Uk to buy it - and could not source it at all. Seems like of some of the supermarkets are now selling it. I'm looking forward to having it again..

By anon341578 — On Jul 13, 2013

My family and I have eaten Basa fish for the past five years and never had a problem. Its white tender meat is delicious reminding me (just a bit) of rockfish. To top it off, it is very cheap (compared to other popular fish). If you are allergic to this type of fish, of course it is going to harm you. Enjoy it, otherwise.

By anon338566 — On Jun 15, 2013

I eat basa fillets three times week here in Sydney. they are inexpensive and absolutely delicious, I recommend it to anyone and disregard the misinformation out there in the American market.

By anon325395 — On Mar 15, 2013

I had it in a restaurant for lunch today (first time to have basa) and it was the best white fish I've ever had, second only to the barramundi I had in Australia. Neither had that strong fishy taste that you can sometimes get with fish.

By anon310492 — On Dec 23, 2012

My family has been eating Basa fish for a couple years, with no problems ever found.

By anon300868 — On Nov 01, 2012

The Asian approach to hygiene and mariculture is very different from the Western approach. It's quite common in good Asian restaurants (in Asia) to be presented with fish heart as a delicacy - and if the heart is still pumping then you know you're in a high class joint. In the West, we prefer to eat our food dead.

"Growing" the fish is also very different in Asia, where pollution from sewage is almost viewed as natural. Growth stimulants are added to the fish food and sometimes injected directly into young fish or fry, and it will be many years before Vietnam starts to worry about chemicals in their waterways.

If you like fish that has fed on sewage, been injected with growth stimulants (non FDA approved) and lives in the most highly polluted waterway in the world, then enjoy your Basa.

By the way, Basa is not seafood; it's a river fish.

By over50 — On Oct 29, 2012

I ate this fish unbeknownst to me three times via takeaway shops selling it as Hoki. Each time I got sick. Each episode was worse than the first, with the last time taking me within five minutes of dying. I now have to carry an epi pen with me, just in case.

Basa should be banned. I won't even feed it to my cat. What people should know is that it is used also in certain brands of crab stick and surimi. Check before buying, please.

By anon280221 — On Jul 16, 2012

I say try it yourself instead of listening to biased opinions.

Crap always flows down stream, and in terms of toxicity, it's no worse than the canned tuna you buy at the store. It's cheap meat, and prepared right it tastes good. Enough said.

By anon257929 — On Mar 29, 2012

People who complain that the Mekong river is polluted, a sewer, blah blah blah, should stop putting their blinders on and realize that there are polluted rivers here in America too.

By anon257784 — On Mar 28, 2012

I am allergic to catfish, and was served swai without my knowledge---and became violently ill as a result. Come to find out swai is a catfish as well. Be very careful eating this fish!

By anon253563 — On Mar 09, 2012

It's been said you vote with your fork. Therefore,

I wouldn't use this crap for fish bait, let alone eat

it. It's well documented just how contaminated the

mekong is.

By anon230372 — On Nov 18, 2011

I ate it at a restaurant in Boca Raton, FL. I went back twice. I just could not figure out what type of fish "Basa" was. Now I know.

I love our southern catfish here in North Carolina, but I believe that the farm raised Basa in southeast Asia is better. I also feel better knowing that it is farm raised. People have reactions to all types of food, so to those who got sick, this may be one that you are allergic to. A friend of mine had a daughter that died after eating a meal of shrimp! So, there is a chance of reaction to anything you eat.

By anon182419 — On Jun 02, 2011

Ate basa for the second time last night, and there won't be a third time. Was violently sick several times followed by the runs. Didn't make the connection the first time but now it's happened again.

By anon167982 — On Apr 14, 2011

Shrimp is a very difficult animal. It cannot live in dirty water. The farmers can raise the shrimp and basa fish in Mekong Delta. that means the Mekong river is not polluted.

By anon167163 — On Apr 11, 2011

I just bought some frozen from the grocery store. I dipped the in egg wash and bread crumbs, tasted awesome to me. I don't think if it was that bad for you, they would let it in to Canadian grocery stores. Like any fish check it carefully, clean it, smell it and make sure you know how to cook it! P.S. I am a chef!

By anon165074 — On Apr 03, 2011

The fish and chip place in our town switched to Basa for their "All You Can Eat" Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday special. The notice of the change to basa was so hidden no one knew.

The taste and texture was a little odd but OK.

My wife is a cancer survivor and after a ton of chemo has almost no immune system. While waiting for me to pay the bill, she turned bright red and collapsed on the floor. Three weeks in hospital to get over that. I damn near lost her again.

By anon156489 — On Feb 27, 2011

does it have scales?

By anon151641 — On Feb 11, 2011

@anon36584: The UK does have strict buying rules, but whether that is effective is questionable, as there is no known easily accessible measurement on effectiveness.

For example, there has been no published report on the rate or frequency of sampling by these supermarkets from their chemical analysis and of their results. There are clearly eyewitness documentaries on TV regarding such pollution and misuse of chemicals for prawn and fish farming.

I believe the use of word "safe" means about 99-99.9 percent probability of safe. This means that if there is a bad fish out of 100 to 1000, then it is safe. Where there are lots (hundred to thousands) of small aquaculture farmers delivering fish to a central collection point (wholesale market), then contaminated batches of fish could be mixed with good ones. So if you happen to eat that one fish out of, say, 1000, then it is not very good.

Lastly, UK supermarkets rely mostly on testing by other agencies. They purchase on warranty statements from their suppliers. For example, the contaminated eggs from Germany recently (around Christmas time 2010) as a result of using industrial oils that led to culling of millions of chickens was not detected by Tesco for seven months of sale. The warning came from the German authorities and by the time of notification UK people had been consuming these contaminated eggs around half a year. They do have their own laboratories but the rate of sampling is tiny compared to the volume of stuff sold.

By anon143520 — On Jan 16, 2011

Basa is the best tasting fish and is safe. If some people do not want to eat it that is their problem. We make our own decision, and postings like those have no influence on us.

By anon139104 — On Jan 03, 2011

you can buy basa fish from the countdown shop that one is close to my apartment! come on for god's sake. Why is everyone having a different opinion? We're all going to die one day, so we should try it whether this particular fish transfers disease or not.

By anon134020 — On Dec 13, 2010

Basa is a kind of a catfish, and no catfish has scales, therefore none are kosher.

By anon131024 — On Nov 30, 2010

Basa Fish can be purchased at the Chinese market store, between Madison and Cameron Sts. Kitchener. Last week, they had it for under $1.00 per pound. The clear plastic packaging looks great as does the fish inside. Check it out.

By anon121127 — On Oct 23, 2010

We had it at a cafe last evening and I couldn't eat it as it tasted like mud. Not sure what mud tastes like but it was horrible.

By apolo72 — On Oct 04, 2010

@anon115145 - I think this is a debated topic. It seems though that most reputable sources say that it's treif. Do a search for "basa kosher" to get some info from more expert sources. Though you should remember that different Orthodox rabbis interpret kashrut differently and what one kosher certifier deems kosher may not be the case for another. Check with your rabbi.

By anon115145 — On Sep 30, 2010

I'm still waiting for a definitive response about whether basa is indeed kosher. Is there a Board of Orthodox rabbis who would provide a satisfactory answer?

By anon111314 — On Sep 15, 2010

Best fish I have ever eaten. No allergic reactions or smells, as others report.

By anon103771 — On Aug 13, 2010

i'm from Malaysia and we have basa here too but it not as bad what some are saying. the fish is good when you know how to cook it.

By anon103631 — On Aug 13, 2010

i can eat seafood without a problem but end up hospitalized if i eat basa. I have grown up on the ocean, have no problem with shellfish or crustaceans, but if i eat basa within an hour i start to power chuck out both ends and literally feel like i am about to die. i am not even able to call for help as it drops me. i just try to get in a position where i won't choke if i pass out as i keep vomiting.

it makes life hard because many restaurants and seafood shops often substitute basa for other advertised fish. The suing factor is only viable if you survive, lol, as it seems to get worse each time.

Basa is readily available in australia and is sold in every supermarket. I do not understand how one river can provide so much crap fish to the world on a budget while our huge ocean can't.

Be careful because i was able to eat it at first and gradually became totally allergic after consuming it five or six times. Beware of fish that is fed on human excrement and dosed with penicillin.

By anon101168 — On Aug 02, 2010

anon36584: I've been eating basa for years. i live in the UK and our supoermarkets have strict buying rules. Basa is safe.

By anon100983 — On Aug 01, 2010

Pangasius bocourti is one of the fishes found in the Mekong river. Pangasius bocourti feed on plant material and is one of the fish which can only digest wood.

The Mekong river may be the most polluted river but Pangasius bocourti has or have the lowest level of toxins than other fishes like tuna, for example, mercury.

I believe Pangasius bocourti is kosher (has scales and gills). I have cooked the fish and eaten the fish like sushi (raw). The fish tastes great and I recommend the fish. It is great for your health, especially for the brain, heart and liver. Plus it is still undecided if the fish truly belongs to the catfish family.

This is for fellow Jews.

By anon99288 — On Jul 26, 2010

I just watched a video on the Mekong River where the majority of the basa fish come from. I won't be eating this. It is not clean water they are in.

By anon97098 — On Jul 18, 2010

Had a second time and it was just as good as the first time. No smell before cooking or after. Good taste, soft and flaky. And, forgot to mention, no bones. Love it. --kau

By anon97070 — On Jul 18, 2010

I was introduced to base and swatha. The clerk behind the seafood counter said they were pretty much the same. Hmmm. The taste was not the same. I fried it, but my son grilled it and the entire house smelled awful. I had to spray my house for days, grrr! Never experienced that before, ever, and after reading the comments on this site i will continue to investigate this fish and its history and techniques of how they clean/prepare to ship etc. Thanks for this site.

By anon91172 — On Jun 20, 2010

I just saw the movie on the web. I will not use Basa until I investigate farther. Too many other good fish to eat instead of this one. I eat fish raw sometimes in dishes, so I would prefer the best of quality.

By anon88749 — On Jun 07, 2010

I've just eaten Basa and have to say that while cooking it had a horrid smell, like sewage. I don't think I'll eat it again. gnmy

By anon85557 — On May 20, 2010

We have been eating Pacific Basa two times a week for over a year.

After reading the negative posts I'm going to do more research but at this time feel it's safe enough to cook since I've already prepped Basa for dinner tonight. Thank you for this site, which is new to me.

By anon81007 — On Apr 29, 2010

I heard that this basa fish is very dangerous and it cause cancer or ‎a carcinoma. Is this right?

By anon80173 — On Apr 26, 2010

there is lots of confusion about Basa fish, most of it around is not actually Basa and is not from Vietnam. so find out clearly what it is you are being offered.

By anon80162 — On Apr 26, 2010

Basa is the greatest. Just don't let them sell you Swai. Much different in taste. I realize they are from the same family but the taste is entirely different. Guess the Swai is in the yucky part of the Mekong. Great prepared in dipped egg and then in Sun Luck Japanese bread crumbs.

By anon79653 — On Apr 23, 2010

I wouldn't eat that crap because of where it comes from and the way those people handle human and other types of excrement. The Mekong is a sewer.

By anon76855 — On Apr 12, 2010

While this fish tasted similar to other white fish, I had a violent reaction to it. Someone said it was just the flu but I was served this fish two months later with an even more violent reaction!

By anon76445 — On Apr 10, 2010

This fish made me very ill on both occasions I ate it. I don't have any kind of fish allergy and my kitchen is hygienic and so are my cooking methods. It needs investigating as I fear it may lead to the death of a child or elderly person with a weakened immune system.

By anon73641 — On Mar 28, 2010

Sorry guys, just read a substantiated report that Vietnamese and Chinese fish farmers are using Malachite Green (a known carcinogen) in their aquaculture. I, personally, am going to limit my intake of this, and all, fish from Southeast Asia. Checkout the CTV report on Basa fish.

By anon72839 — On Mar 24, 2010

basa fish can be easily found at your local grocery store. Zehr's, Superstore and Metro carry it in Ontario, Canada

By anon69696 — On Mar 09, 2010

Is basa safe to eat? Really?

By anon68687 — On Mar 03, 2010

A friend of mine said that she tried some Basa fish and really enjoyed it. That same day me and my six year old daughter decided to try it for ourselves. We loved it! My daughter said that Basa fish is the bomb!

By anon63930 — On Feb 04, 2010

It's funny that someone said it may not be Kosher, as when I tasted it, I was reminded of lobster meat. It was delicious prepared with artichokes, tomatoes in a beurre blanc.

By anon60951 — On Jan 17, 2010

just tasted this delicious fish, and wow! soft and tender like river fish. I like it.

By anon52883 — On Nov 17, 2009

While out for a romantic dinner with my husband I tired basa for the first time. It was done in a creamy sauce. I personally really dislike fish. But I have to say that basa is an amazing fish to eat.

By anon43454 — On Aug 28, 2009

Basa fish, like catfish, are scavenger fish and even though they have scales and gills I do not believe they are kosher.

By anon38820 — On Jul 28, 2009

Are basa a fresh water or salt water fish?

By anon38471 — On Jul 26, 2009

Is basa fish kosher? Does it have scales? Does it have fins?

By anon36584 — On Jul 13, 2009

The Mekong River is highly polluted. Does it follow that Basa contains elements of this pollution that are harmful to humans?

By res123 — On Apr 07, 2009

Where can you purchase Basa Catfish?

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