This is the specimen I am sampling today, and I pause to make mention of it because it is delicious. Not are the flavorings exquisite and the noodles superb, but there is real, hydrated stewed fish in a foil packet, which one squeezes into the soup when it is done steeping.
I realize this may be a deal-breaker for many. My mouth, unlike the majority of English-speaking palates, particularly delights in the oceanic, fishy flavors of many Asian foods such as dried squid and cuttlefish, various mollusk liquids and derivatives, and the all-tasty prawn powder. I also savor similar delicacies from around the globe. I love the Ashkanazi and Eastern European flavors of my favorite Gefilte fish, herring in wine sauce from the North Sea, the thousands of cephalopod variations from the Mediterranean, and anchovies, sardines and other small fry packaged and prepared in fashions from around the world. The other day I started salivating upon hearing a description of an oyster shucking competition in Sweden. I have even purchased food items with packaging printed in other languages, unaware of what the contents may actually be, simply because of a friendly-looking seafood character who looked delicious (like many of these dried soups). Recently I bought a snack-food looking bag, to discover it contained whole sardines, deep-fried to the crispiness of chips. They were good with beer, though I admit I couldn't eat the whole bag in one sitting like Doritos.
This habits often place me at odds with others over culinary choices; but of course, as the proverb reads, "more for me."
I am told from the ingredient list on this particular soup that the fish I am eating is basa fish. Basa fish is a type of catfish from Vietnam and Thailand, from the Mekong Delta and Charo Phraya basin (the packaging in in Vietnamese).
Wikipedia provides these interesting facts:
In 2002, the United States accused Vietnam of dumping catfish, namely Pangasius bocourti and Pangasius hypophthalmus, on the American market, charging the Vietnamese importers who are subsidized by Vietnam's government of unfair competition. With pressures from the U.S. catfish industry, the United States Congress passed a law in 2003 preventing the imported fish from being labelled as catfish, as well as imposing additional tariffs on the imported fish. Under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruling, only species from the family Ictaluridae can be sold as true catfish. As a result, the Vietnamese exporters of this fish now label their products sold in the U.S. as basa fish or bocourti.
At the height of the "catfish war," U.S. catfish farmers and others were describing the imported catfish as an inferior product. However, researchers at the Mississippi State University show that in their experiment, imported basa were preferred in a taste test 3-to-1.
I find it quite delicious. It's texture, at least in this packaged, pre-stewed form, is a bit denser than the American catfish I'm used to, but it works well in a dehydrated soup in which the other ingredients are light and soft in their re-consitituted form. I suppose I would have to do a deep-fry comparison to really compare to catfish.
This company makes the same soup in rice porridge form. If you have never had rice porridge, it's just soup with rice rather than noodles. This particular rice porridge inspired me to experiment with rice porridge on my own. We have a deluxe rice cooker, so it comes with rice porridge settings, but all one really needs is to wash the rice first, and add an extra cupful of water, and slowly simmer the rice rather than bring it to a raging bowl. When the rice is the right consistency, add ingredients, and you're good to go. Last night I added tofu, shittake, basil and parsley, and a bit of ginger and dry mustard and chile. Delicious!