Vietnam export successfully Pangasius to India

Three years after the fist Vietnamese consignment landed on Indian shores, imports of basa have reached some 1,500 tons. 

Yogesh Grover smelled a rotten fish when, in 2007, he moved to India. After having worked in Africa and Europe, Grover, director of seafood importer Empire Foods, was left cold by the quality of fish served in Indian restaurants. “Even marquee five-star restaurants were serving quality that was bad for the price they were charging,” he says.

Grover loves fish: Chilean sea bass, Scottish salmon and silver pomfret are his favorites. He remembered the whitefish that he had eaten in Europe and placed a trial order of six tonnes of Vietnamese basa.

That order changed the way Indian hotels serve fish. Three years after the first Vietnamese consignment landed on Indian shores, imports of basa have reached some 1,500 tonnes. “In 2011 it should cross 2,000 metric tonnes,” says Rahul Kulkarni, director, marketing, West Coast Group, which imports and sells basa in retail outlets under the Cambay Tiger brand. Data from the Directorate General of Foreign Trade shows that so far in 2011 India has already imported three-fourths of what it imported in the whole of 2010.

The success of basa has been so swift that even longtime restaurateurs are left stunned. “I can’t recall an instance when a fish from another shore has worked its way into the Indian palate so quickly. It is phenomenal,” says Anjan Chatterjee, founder of Speciality Restaurants, which owns Mainland China and Oh! Calcutta. Chatterjee serves basa in both these restaurant chains. The rising popularity of basa means it is replacing the stock fish–river sole in North India, bhetki in East India and ghol or pomfret in West India–in hotels acrossIndia. This doesn’t mean restaurants don’t serve Indian varieties. They do, but for many dishes that need a fillet, basa is now the fish of choice. And not just for the economics.

Basa is a harmless little name for the more formidable Pangasius bocourti. It comes from a huge family of catfish that proliferates in Vietnam, Thailand,China and Cambodia. Vietnam is the dominant player by far and, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), is the source of 99.9% of Pangasius (also known as tra and basa catfish) exports. And the volume of exports has expanded fiftyfold over the past decade. “Basa has conquered Europe, and it has been accepted in the U.S.A.,” says Grover.
Most of the basa sold in the global markets is farmed. basa has low oxygen demands and breeds very quickly, making it perfect for being farmed. Over the past two decades the Vietnamese have perfected the manufacturing processes that keep the fish fresh. Once they are filleted, they are immediately freeze-dried and packaged so they remain fresh even after they are transported miles away. And to top it all, they do so very economically.

What is the secret of such a high yield of basa? “There is no other fish that can be as easily descaled and deboned,” says P.B. Reddy, director of Castlerock Fisheries. Basa has just one long central bone and once that is taken out, making the fillet is easy.
The Vietnamese entrepreneurs have invested good money to make boats that have an aquariumlike attachment on the hulls. This keeps the fish alive and fresh till they reach the processing plant. Chatterjee thinks the Vietnamese production techniques are “magic,” since the fillets feel absolutely fresh when taken out of the packet. Hemant Oberoi, executive grand chef at Mumbai’s TajMahal Palace, agrees. “It is a nice firm fish. Cleaning is quick, it is frozen and there is no wastage. After thawing it is as fresh,” he says.

Basa adapts very well to Indian and other Asian cuisines such as Chinese and Thai. Chefs concur that it can easily be tava-cooked or masala-grilled. “It gels well with the kind of palate Indians have. It is softer [than other Indian fish],” says chef Anirudhoya Roy of Taj Land’s End, who pioneered the use of this fish in Indian hotels and uses 600 kilos of basa a month.

Another strong attribute of basa is that it doesn’t smell, which puts it in a sweet spot. Indian sea fish such as mackerel or kingfish are less bony than fresh water varieties but are smellier. Freshwater fish such as carp smell less than sea fish but have many bones. Visually, too, basa scores. The premium grade of basa imported into India is unblemished white. “People like to see white meat when they cut into it. Whiteness is always associated with good quality,” says Reddy.

Farming of basa has started in eastern India’s fresh waters as well. The region produced 30,000 tonnes of the fish in 2010, and it is being served all over the north (including Delhi) and the east. But, where look and taste is concerned, Indian basa has yet to make the cut. Its color is dimmer and the bloodstreams running across the flesh are visible. For these reasons the price of Indian basa is lower, at just under $2 a pound, while the Vietnamese variety sells for bout $2.50 a pound.

Indian fishery experts think that in a few years aquaculture within the country will start delivering quality basa. And apparently the Chinese have taken a shine to the fish and have started ramping up its production.

Then there will be more than just troubled waters between India and her neighbor.

Source: VASEP


One Response to Vietnam export successfully Pangasius to India

  1. Pingback: India looks to barramundi « The Vietnamese Seafood News

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