In False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World* there’s a chapter which covers “The Catfish War” between Vietnam and the United States in the early 2000s. Basically Vietnamese catfish were cheaper than American catfish, so American farmers got the government to force the Vietnamese to not label the fish catfish (it’s a different species from the American variant). So Vietnamese catfish are now termed “basa” in the United States. Interestingly this might have backfired, the author of False Economy claims that many American consumers ended up thinking basa were an exotic premium import. But here’s another reality: in blind taste tests people prefer Vietnamese catfish to American catfish.
I only mention this because I’ve been getting basa for a few weeks now. Today the supermarket was out of basa, but did have American catfish (where there used to be basa). So I got American catfish because I figured catfish is catfish. Well…American catfish kind of sucks compared to basa. I don’t find catfish meat repellent or anything, but basa has a much nicer flavor and smell than American catfish. It’s also easier to cook. And I don’t have a subtle palette; I use a lot of hot sauce, so I can tolerate a large range in flavor. There just isn’t any comparison. Perhaps it was a bad batch of catfish, but I’ve actually had catfish sandwiches and the like in New Orleans and Houston, and I think this was typical American catfish thinking back to that. Wikipedia said that people prefer basa to American catfish 3:1, but I would have expected 10:1.
* It’s a well written work which illustrates general economic principles with concrete contemporary examples, but is far inferior to Rondo Cameron’s A Concise Economic History of the World in terms of factual density.