Moonraker Morsels

A Barcelona food blog

To eat or not to eat Panga?

Markets in foreign countries can be dazzling, awe inspiring, wonderous and equally bewildering, especially when you’re not familiar or fluent with the language. Since I’ve lived here I’ve familiarised myself with the Spanish and Catalan names for fish, learnt to identify species by sight and laboriously gone through my cookbooks annotating them with translations.

Rewind about a year and my knowledge was not what it is now. After a busy day and mistakenly on a Monday (don’t buy fresh fish on a Monday, no-one goes fishing on a Sunday so it’ll either be frozen or older than you’d like), I called at the market and picked up a fillet of panga. I cooked the fillet of white fish, was unimpressed, disliked the bland taste but thought I’d ‘Google’ for a translation. Recent house guests of mine who were also lured by the shiny, boneless fillets and ease of purchase (in that you don’t have to explain in broken Spanish how you want it prepared as it’s always sold already filleted) did their ‘Google’ before cooking. Panga filletsWhat appears is shocking. Horror stories of it originating from a highly polluted Mekong river, containing high level poisons, being frozen in contaminated river water and injected with hormones derived from urine.  So there it was, a ranting, ‘don’t even go there’ article in the making, a nauseus feeling from the thought of what I’d eaten, and most recently, uneaten fillets in the garbage.

However, things may not be quite what they seem. Of the many, many pages of stomach turning warnings, it would appear that they are from three original sources: a documentary from French television and a couple of blogs, which have then whizzed their way round various other websites, forums and the like. Rather than jump in feet first and berate this new arrival to the fishmongers I felt it wise to take a more balanced and less reactionary view.

What’s undeniable is that Panga is everywhere. All the supermarkets proudly display their offers for it and at the markets it nestles innocuously amongst the hake, monkfish, tuna, salmon steaks and dorade. During a wander around the Boquería I counted a third of the stalls in the central, astonishing fish section stocking it. It is also bargain basement cheap, prices ranged from around 6€ a kilo to as little as 2.99€ a kilo on one stall. Panga fillets at Boqueria, BarcelonaYou might also find it in called ‘Basa’, ‘Pangas’, ‘River Cobbler’ or any of these names with ‘Catfish’ added on the end. Some UK fish and chip shops have been replacing depleted cod with it,  a number having faced the wrath from trading standards when they have masqueraded it as cod with it’s related price tag. Here in Spain it is replacing other fish in menu del dias and regularly appears in school dinners. It is also quite likely to comprise the ‘white fish’ listed in ready made fishcakes or fish pies in many countries.

Panga is a native fish from the Mekong Basin in Vietnam and is now heavily farmed there and in other parts of the Far East for export to countries in the West. There are conflicting reports about the cleanliness of the water in this polluted and industrialised area and also how well regulated the farms are, sources from EU Parliament sites assert that they are regularly inspected to meet their standards. Even if we are to take an optimistic view of the farming methods, this is fish that is being flown half way round the globe for our plates, although it must be said that there are plenty other varieties sitting on the market stalls which have been flown from the North Atlantic, South America and other far flung destinations, not all the traders clearly labelling this.

The UK food standards agency classifies it as safe to eat and stresses that it meets EU import standards, these same standards would obviously apply to Spain. However, only this week Spanish CNN ran a story about it being withdrawn from school food in the Basque Country after experts have continually found high levels of certain toxic chemicals in this seafood. They didn’t quote their sources so I’ve been unable to find anything further about this but again the web is full of conflicting information about chemical levels and testing.

Whatever the truth about this fish being bred and farmed in murky, polluted waters it’s reputation and facts about it are far from crystal clear. For me, primarily it doesn’t taste good and it’s being flown thousands of miles to us, neither of those things being point scoring qualities, its shady background further confirms that I won’t be eating it again. I’ll leave you to make up your own mind.


52 comments on “To eat or not to eat Panga?

  1. steve bonham
    January 3, 2012

    Good post! Far and informative…

    I don’t like the sound of this panga, but it does make you think, if a potentially toxic food meet’s EU standards what other foods are slipping through the net!!!

    • butterytoast
      January 9, 2012

      Pleased you liked the post Steve. I agree, there are probably some very ‘fishy’ foodstuffs being approved as safe by the EU. I think it makes sense to try and eat as much local produce as possible or food where the source is known.

    • Laura
      March 28, 2012

      I agree with you 100 %. God knows only what we are being fed. It is horrendous. Since the “great EU invention”, europeans are completely unprotected from all types of corruptions and unimaginable situations that never happened before. Only through wikileaks type information, we the taxpayers, the decent citizens will get some information now and then. The whore and the pimp (Germany and France) run the show, the rest of us work, pay taxes and have to shut our mouths.

      • butterytoast
        April 9, 2012

        Hi Laura, thanks for your comment, although I feel I was trying to be balanced about the information circulating regarding this fish and making an informed decision to eat it, rather than attacking the European Union which frankly I don’t know enough about the workings of to comment further.

    • cup
      April 21, 2012

      How much of this was ‘internet research’ and how much of it was actually seen with the authors own eyes and how much of it is hearsay. How many farms did the reporter visit – was it just one? Is it the report on the best farm or the worst one or the only one where the reporter was allowed in?

      Lots of people get food poisoning and it is not always caused by the fish they eat. Some delicate stomachs can’t take food that has been frozen, defrosted and refrozen; others can.

      It is very easy to spread truths as well as lies through the internet so don’t always believe everything you read.

      • butterytoast
        April 23, 2012

        Hi Cup,
        Thanks for your comment although I am a little confused by it. Nowhere in this article have I mentioned the issue of food poisoning and what I was trying to highlight was how an internet search on this fish reveals some alarming information which with further investigation shows is from limited sources. I have made my decision not to buy panga again because of it being flown around the world and its bland flavour. As the title suggests, to eat or not eat panga is an individual decision.

      • Mohamed Mostefaoui
        March 12, 2014

        about 12 years ago scientists in Scotland reported that farmed fish was not safe for humans .if you look at how chicken is raised in USA and Canada it’s not very pretty .also before blaming EU maybe you should hold your government responsible for what they bring in for their citizens ,but because of corruption we are sold out we have to fan for ourselves .

  2. Matthew
    April 21, 2012

    Hi Guys N Girls. Honestly i was a bit shocked this afternoon when i got home and read all this pollocks about how and where this fish came from. Having spent 3 years in KL, 2 year in Tokyo and 5years in Australia i have eaten everything from fish slowly dying on a plate, road kill pies, satay crocodile and spicy dog flesh in Thailand. I am still alive and kicking. I have just purchased 2kilo’s of this from a friend for 12quid in my local. Apparently it is a tasteless fish. Which is why i purchased it. I usually use haddock for my homemade curry’s. Im going to marinade it in masala this weekend. Cook it in a Panoy style and serve it with tomatoe and chick pea dahl, Punjab north indian spicy chicken curry, pitta’s and keema naan. I will let you know how it turns out after next weekend when i serve it up to 11 family members. (This report, though more evenly balanced is still negative towards the end. It does concern me a little. But if all 11members of my family are fit and well afterwards and i get the usual thumbs up, it wont put me off..) Stay tined! i mean tuned 😛 Matt in Sussex.

    • butterytoast
      April 23, 2012

      Hi Matthew, thanks for your comment. Again, as with the comment from Cup I am slightly confused by your comment. I think it was clear from the article that I was saying the information online about this fish was shady. Your decision to eat or not eat panga is entirely up to you. I would, however, question anyone buying a foodstuff they deem ‘tasteless’, why on earth would you want your food to not taste of anything?

  3. Matthew
    June 11, 2012

    Yummy! So i cooked up this Panga and it was fabulous. I made it in a Panoy (Filipino) style and serve it with tomatoe and chick pea dahl, along with another 2 curries, my little brother also supplied another two Asian dishes and suggested we had a curry off for a bit of fun. It was eaten by 9 family members including children down to 6years old. It was delightful. And the Panga and a chicken Masala won the curry off, with the Panga getting the winning 6 overall votes…Not Bad! I looked into the fish a bit further and spoke to the owner of the fish supply and he said it was being sold like hot cakes. And that its very popular. He explained that yes he had heard the negative stories of the origin and treatment process of the fish. He explained that all the fish is tested for lethal amounts of any given man made product / chemical by the FSA (Food standard Agency) and the government. And is deemed as being satisfactory for retail in the UK. Also that its become extremely popular in many other south America and European countries. There are many tasteless foods available “Buttery Toast”. Some foods are tasteless but we digest them because they mix well with tasty foods and deliver us with proteins and minerals that we may not find in other food types. Also, many chef’s and food fanatics like myself, around the world like and prefer to use products like this so that it can be marinaded or served with a sauce. Hope you enjoyed the read ! positive thoughts all 🙂

    • butterytoast
      June 13, 2012

      Hi again Matthew, I glad you enjoyed the Panga. I don’t think I need to repeat my ealrier comments when you posted previously. I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this fish.

  4. Chris
    July 3, 2012

    Had River Cobbler last night for the first time.
    Would like to report I feel fine, the fish tasted fine, I cooked it with Tomatos, Chili and garlic as I new it was quite a mild tasting fish.

    I can’t imagine so many big supermarkets selling it if it wasnt safe to eat, not sure places like Tesco would want the bad publicity and law suits that would follow 🙂

    • butterytoast
      July 12, 2012

      Hi Chris, glad you enjoyed the panga and I see no reason why you shouldn’t have felt fine. As I said in the post, there are mixed stories about the safety of this fish and it is approved by EU food safety regulation.

  5. Derek
    July 6, 2012

    Interesting mixed views on this fish.
    With an open mind I had some last night and found the fish to be a little tasteless and almost slimey / Jelly like in texture. The fish had been cooked properly so I can only assume this is a characteristic of the fish, this may appeal to some people but not me, although I did eat all the fish.

    Because I had never heard of Panga fish I decided to try to find some information on it, maybe in certain countries where this type and other types of fish are mixed with strong spices etc and the basic flavour of the fish is not an issue, a little like Quorn maybe ?

    I know some people are very put off by strong flavoured fish so this could for them be a good alternative fish.

    For me, this is not a fish I personally will be ordering again.

    Bon appetit

    • butterytoast
      July 12, 2012

      Hi Derek, I agree there are some very mixed opinions on this fish and some very ‘fishy’ sources about it’s safety. I hope that balance came across in my post. In the meantime i’m with you and it’s just not for me. Oh, and as for Quorn, a pointless, pointless food in my opinion. Eat meat or don’t, but fake meat versions, bleurgh.

  6. john
    July 13, 2012

    Hi i have been reading the comments about panga , should we eat it or not because of where its from or where its farmed.I have been eating panga for a number of years and find it very enjoyable and a nice change from the usual cod and haddock we normally get in our fishshops. Being a fisherman myself people dont realise that a lot of the fish we do eat does not always come from perfectly clear waters , if it was not safe they couldnt sell it, dont always listen to other people try it first you never know you might actually enjoy it, I did.

    • butterytoast
      July 16, 2012

      Hi John,
      Thanks for your comment, yet once again I feel I am repying to a comment on this topic when the article hasn’t even been read in full. If so, you would see that I have in fact tried the panga and wasn’t impressed. I also believe we should try where possible to eat food that hasn’t been flown half way round the world and I repeat again that in the article I did try and take a balanced view about the ‘horror’ stories on this fish.

  7. Dan
    September 1, 2012

    I’ve just bought some of this fish from Aldi UK because it was so cheap (they are calling it Basa). Anyway, I came home and decided to google it just out of interest, and I am now in shock. I’m sure it won’t make me ill, but the thought of consuming poisons even if a negligible amount, isn’t particularly appitising. I guess I will eat it this once but won’t be buying it again.

    I tend to think that the truth about this fish will be somewhere in the middle of perfectly safe and poisonous.

    • butterytoast
      September 16, 2012

      Dan I very much agree that the truth is probably somewhere between. But I come back to my usual point that either way, it doesn’t taste great and comes from far away, more than enough reasons for me not to buy it again.

  8. joan nicholson
    November 8, 2012

    I see it never says on the menu in any restaurant or pub “Panga”, One has to wonder why!!!!
    Typical UK, why do we have to have food imported from Vietnam, and with the risks this fish carries, when fish are more than plentyful in our own seas..?

    • butterytoast
      November 9, 2012

      Indeed Joan. It always amazes me how much British crab and other seafood is exported here to Spain. We’re fools on our little island.

  9. Kinga
    November 22, 2012

    Fish are more than plentyful in our own seas?? I’m sorry are you writing to us from the 16th century?

    • butterytoast
      December 3, 2012

      I agree plentiful might be the wrong word but there are still mountains of crab and octopus of British shores that are being flown to Spain and elsewhere, yet we’re flying in Far Eastern fish here. Doesn’t make any sense.

    • Carey Keates
      March 14, 2014

      Kinga – no not a missive from the 16th century – there are lots of fish being caught, but not landed.
      The problem with British fishing is the EU, who have imposed quotas on the catch, meaning that if a boat catches more than its quota of, say, cod, it has to throw the dead surplus into the sea! Now just how mad is that, please?
      Various TV chefs have tried to publicise this, notably Fearnley Whittingstall, but up against the EU monolith their voices count for little.
      Patronise the little van who drives around the neighbourhood selling fish, and ask him next time to get you a box of Ling – cod-like, but very tasty, or Gurnard, very tasty bur looks weird, but about half the price of mainstream offerings, mainly because the average British fish-eater only knows cod and haddock, and turn their noses up at anything they don’t know.

  10. Norma
    December 21, 2012

    we went to a brand new public house only opened the day before we went my friend had fish and chips he said it was the best fish and chips he had ever had he is 83 years old. On leaving i asked the staff what the fish was they went into the kitchen and were told it was panga from new zealand. i returned to spain and have bought some of the fish not tried it yet but am sure it will be fine.

  11. Graeme
    January 15, 2013

    Tried panga for the first time – that I’m aware of – in a restaurant in Ribeira de Brava, Madeira. Hadn’t heard of it before, it tasted okay with not much flavour but it was cheap and the waiter made no effort to disguise its name. I won’t be actively seeking it out again but all the scare stories around about various foods need to be taken with a reasonable pinch of salt

    • butterytoast
      January 15, 2013

      Thanks for your comment Graeme.
      As I’ve commented many times, I think my article tired to balance the scare stories with counter arguments.

  12. Danny
    January 29, 2013

    It is very scary all i have read in here about “Pangas”.I am cook at a hotel.Recently the manager changes the old menu to a new one ,and among these new changes we have now ‘Pangas”.I tried it many times,it has a plain flavor,i cooked it with different kind of spices,and it turns out just fine.You’ll see,i’m writing,so i’m still alive.As our hostes said (buttertoast),it is up to each one to decide,to eat or not to eat.Have a nice day everybody 😉

  13. Chrissy
    February 13, 2013

    Almost all of your commenters seem to be missing the point about the dangers of this fish (and I’m willing to believe the scare stories up to a certain point – how often have governments hidden unpalatable truths about contaminated foods from the public?).

    My point is that, although the fish may taste fine(ish), especially when curried, and the diner doesn’t feel ill the next day, contamination could result in cancers and so on. That’s a wait-and-see scenario which I don’t want to be part of.

    I’m not willing to take the risk.

  14. Gaynor P.
    February 21, 2013

    I often cook river cobbler or basa, i usualy make my own breadcrums with a mixture of seeded bread and white bread, add the grated rind of a lemon, a good pinch of salt and a shake of black pepper, whizz it in the food processor, wash and dry the fish, dip in beaten egg then pull through the bread crumb and fry each side for ten minutes, delicious.

  15. dave
    February 24, 2013

    not one case of food poisoning from eating panga registered in france by the medical council and as a chef of 30 years and having eaten it for many years scare mongers should back off and stop creating panic amongst fish eaters no one complains about fish caught in the med and yet even that is now highly poluted
    if we listened to all the worry worts in the food world we would starve to death
    eat the panga ignore the drama

  16. David Hanney
    March 20, 2013

    I cooked and ate it 3 times in Tenerife. I didn’t curry it and would say it had a really nice delicate taste … not tasteless. I’ve just got home and looked it up and am rather disturbed. I agree with Chrissy that it is the long term outcomes that we have to worry about. Though it was very tasty just pan-fried I will not be eating it again.

  17. margie
    April 2, 2013


    We are from the Wirral we went to local chip shop for fish and chips we where served panga fish in batter which was absolutely discusting we will not be eating that again

  18. bob
    May 13, 2013

    Got some Panga for our old cat and would not entertian it cooked or raw. Perhaps this tells us somthing about how good this is

  19. Colin
    June 11, 2013

    It makes a lovely fish pie. I wonder do they do it smoked? Maybe it is better from fresh. I found it to be a similar flavour and texture to Cod. As we all know Cod tastes a lot better from a fresh source.

  20. Jack Moncrieff
    July 13, 2013

    I had fish and chips last night in one of our local bars (Spain) I would say that the flesh is between haddock and cod but didnt taste like either I think the flavour in this case could have come from the batter mix which wasnt unpalatable, no after efects so far but after reading so many bad coments I dont think that I’ll knowingly have it again. Being a Scot we much prefer haddock.

  21. Bob
    August 1, 2013

    I have a lot of fun, reading lines like ” if it was not safe they couldnt sell it”… Good luck trusting EU and domestic “political aristocracy”. 😉 The problem is with quality of food in general – there is hardly anything decent and without pollution on the market. In conclusion, I eat Panga, not to often, but my preference is local food.
    Panga works well “greek” style, with jullienne carrots and tomatoes, marinated in very light vinnegar…

  22. Youssef Badraoui Kassemi
    August 2, 2013

    Hi, I’m just a tad late to this, but just would like to point that this fish was the source of a nasty fight with US and EU fish-farmers who have seen the arrival of this cheap fish, rightly, as a great threat. I think you can trace most if not all the negative publicity to that period. It’s a powerful lobby, however, all they could get was a stricter labelling for Basa/Panga both in the EU and US. If that’s the worst they could do, the fish must be up to standards and safe. Scaring the customers of the competition always helps though.

  23. Leah Hansom
    August 10, 2013

    It really depends on where you are, and where the fish is caught. I live in the Caribbean and panga is caught locally. You can literally go snorkeling with these fish one moment and eat them the next! While it is slightly bland, it’s a good addition to gumbo, chowder, etc as it holds up well when cooked.

  24. Vicki
    August 12, 2013

    We all know by now how easy it is to dress up unpalatable foods i.e. horse meat scandal. I personally wouldn’t want to eat anything that comes out of a poluted river- it’s nonsence to think that if you eat something and it doesn’t make you ill the next day it must be ok. Toxins from poluted rivers, seas, soil build up in the body unseen but deadly – I don’t want this and can’t imagine why anyone would take the chance.

  25. ibrahim
    August 12, 2013

    is it as bad as tuna which has high levels of mercury.

    ok it sounds much worse, some reporting about pollution in other fish species would help us put panga into perspective and also test results of what it actually contains, because without this it may appear to some that this article is scare(fish)mongering

  26. joshuakong823
    September 10, 2013

    It is surprising that panga can survive in such dirty and polluted river as Mekong while it is also speculated that fish would die too in such rivers as many polluted rivers in Sabah Borneo are ‘fishless’ for the kampong folk.

    Maybe such fishes once fished are place in some clean water ponds for a few days before ready for food. Is this accepted SOP to be put in place as fresh fishes are getting rarer nowaday as over fished.

    Give panda a chance as a rare source of protein only if we put some good effort to keep all fishes safe for food…for the good of all.

    We really do not know what we eat daily eating out including GMO foods also unsafe.. Where on earth is the GMO food ingredients listed on the content label?
    Where on earth is the expiry date of the ingredients listed on the label if that is ever possible? So the human race is really the endangered specie on earth???

  27. Anecito Abarquez
    December 12, 2013

    I am a little bit confused about this panga fish what it really looks like. I keep on researching about this fish but i found out that there are different types and figures. Besides, how do we know that the skinless fish sold in different markets are panga fish where usually they don’t put tag panga boneless fish.

    Second, is there no other source of this panga fish aside from the wellknown most polluted and contaminated river on earth, the mekong river?

  28. Allen
    January 30, 2014

    Six of us had our first feed of panga last evening.It was delicious! It is a firm ,white meat that ,when fried with a coating of flour and light seasoning to taste, was a great meal. Fried quick and hot is a method that works well. As with any fish , the larger or older the animal , the higher the chemical or toxin level that will be encountered.Washing the fish in clean, cold water and then drying it, also makes a world of difference. …..and lastly ..everthing in moderation …is a good adage to follow. many sources tell us that certain fish ,depending on size or their eating habits should only be eaten on a once a week or once a month basis. everyone to their own taste ,but I know that I will eat this fish again…but not this week!
    Allen ,in Costa Rica.

  29. viktor forgacs
    February 20, 2014

    Recently the unniversity of Granada, Spain, made a deep research of contaminated fish. Well, the best results with no contamination had Panga and Bacalao (cod)

  30. bill
    March 10, 2014

    I know of two people who ate it unknowingly in the UK and both became ill. May be a coincidence but anyway great article, thanks. Bill

  31. M.P Fortune mrs.
    June 22, 2014

    I eat Panga in Spain and find it delicious. I know it’s origins, but what have we immune systems for…perhaps a small Geiger counter may reassure you worriers.! It’s a fine fish, I breadcrumb mine and fry in olive oil and eat it myself. I never catch colds or flu and feel fine.
    I hope most people feel as I do.

  32. Robert Wilson
    July 19, 2014

    P.S. …I actually Meant “BLACK COD” , not Black Bass… who cares about black bass for the most part… R. Wilson

  33. Youarewhatyoueat
    August 10, 2014

    In general, I think it’s wise not to eat *any* food that is imported from or processed in countries with very lax environmental standards like China/Vietnam/etc…

  34. frank
    October 29, 2014

    the safest option here is to not eat food that you don’t grow or kill yourself, and also not to eat anything from the ocean or that has been grown on land. the water that come out of your tap is unsafe. organic is impossible now with pollen blowover.

    this topic does not deserve this many responses
    life is short have fun, chill.

  35. Joanne gavan
    March 10, 2015

    Last night i went out for a pub meal, i ordered fish and chips.. The fish was slimy and not the usual fish/cod haddock that is usually sold in the uk. Anyway starving that i was i reluctantly ate it. Within seconds i felt it like i had food poisoning. I complained and went home to an evening of agony i went straight to bed to see if i could sleep it off. Woke up this morning and the pain has now gone…i wrote to the pub and they said that this fish is free from anything??? To give me food poisoning..i thankyou for this article! I feel better equipped to research this more now and present them with more facts..thankyou

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on November 24, 2010 by in Seafood and tagged , , , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: