The fish that makes a great catch

Once a strictly seasonal food, catfish is now enjoyed all year round in a wide variety of new breeds

A BOTTOM FEEDER THAT REMAINS TOP: Spicy catfish is tasty and cheap.

I'm sure that there are many people who have the same relationship with catfish dishes that I do. When they think of a particular favourite -- grilled catfish with boiled neem flowers and the sweet-spicy sauce called nam plaa waan, or the fish deep-fried with spicy seasonings and crisp-fried basil leaves scattered on top -- they crave to eat some right then and there.

The reason for this potent appeal is that catfish has deep and long-standing roots in Thai cuisine. Although there may be people who don't like it, everyone knows that there are famous Thai dishes that cannot be made with anything else.

There were originally two types of catfish found in natural Thai waters. Those with yellow bellies were known as plaa duke ui or plaa duke thong naa (field catfish). White-bellied ones were called plaa duke daan. Thais of the past preferred the plaa duke ui. Although it was smaller than the plaa duke daan, the meat was thought to be firmer and sweeter, and to contain more fat than that of the white-bellied type.

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