Is pla-ra safe to eat?

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Is pla-ra safe to eat?

Post by 404cameljockey » Sun Apr 15, 2018 9:10 am

If pla-ra in Hua Hin is made from anchovy then I guess it's safe. I don't think it's easy to get the authentic-tasting northern-style pla-ra (made from raw freshwater fish and served uncooked) here? Nam phrik the same? I do eat nam phrik here in Hua Hin, and I'm also a fan of north Thai food but don't really travel north. And I don't eat huge quantities, I imagine like smoking it's not a huge risk if you are only an occasional consumer?

How about forum members that get family members to bring it to Hua Hin from the north, is this something you think about? I'm not judging, just asking. We all take some risks every day of our lives.

I read it can take many years for the damage to appear in the body, as liver function impairment, liver failure or even liver cancer. I am guessing this is mostly linked to large consumption over a long period. But even fairly young people can get cancer from smoking, could this be the same?

The human liver flukes carried (hosted) by freshwater fish are not killed by the fermentation process or the ingestion of alcohol with food, as some believe. So liver flukes are carcinogenic and are being ingested when eating pla-ra made from freshwater fish.

In Bangkok I believe the rate of infection is close to zero, in the north it's huge.

"“It’s the most deadly and persistent cancer in the region,” Dr. Banchob said."
https://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/26/worl ... iland.html

"In Northeast Thailand, outrageous rates of O. viverrini infection have been definitively linked to carp consumption, specifically that of a regional delicacy known as pla-ra in which the fish are fermented for three months to a year."
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/bodyh ... tKsj5e-mUl

"Servicemembers who fought in Vietnam could be at risk of developing cancer caused by a parasite they might've ingested decades ago through raw or undercooked fish while deployed to Southeast Asia.
Test results from a study conducted this spring by the Department of Veterans affairs show Vietnam War veterans could be infected with a slow-killing parasite, The Associated Press reported. Twenty percent of the 50 veterans tested were positive or bordering positive for antibodies from tiny parasitic worms called liver flukes, according to the wire service."
http://www.moaa.org/Content/Publication ... inoma.aspx

I know we're all going one day, but just curious. :)

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Re: Is pla-ra safe to eat?

Post by buksida » Sun Apr 15, 2018 10:03 am

There was a thread on this a while ago: viewtopic.php?f=16&t=34819&p=442409

I can eat some hellfire hot chilies but wouldn't touch that stuff!
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Re: Is pla-ra safe to eat?

Post by VincentD » Sun Apr 15, 2018 10:33 am

It is a staple so I guess for some people not just safe to eat, but necessary to have in your food! Sort of like 'kapi' fermented shrimp paste (variations in Malaysia and Singapore is called 'belachan').
It is not just with anchovies - gourami is a hot favourite, and they do have other varieties of freshwater fish being used. Also, the 'sterile' and 'non-sterile' versions, where the non-sterile has small little white worms crawling all over and considered the best...

Plus, if you want to clear an apartment block in two minutes flat, cook this stuff in your kitchen. Durian pales in comparison.

Process is the same as fish sauce (which does use anchovies) - fish, salt, water, and time. Lots of it. Only difference is, pla-raa use the whole lot whereas fish sauce is only the strained liquid of the fermented mass..

Bon apetit :naughty:
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Re: Is pla-ra safe to eat?

Post by 404cameljockey » Sun Apr 15, 2018 10:57 am

buksida wrote:
Sun Apr 15, 2018 10:03 am
There was a thread on this a while ago: viewtopic.php?f=16&t=34819&p=442409

I can eat some hellfire hot chilies but wouldn't touch that stuff!
Ah somehow I missed that. Thanks.

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Re: Is pla-ra safe to eat?

Post by 404cameljockey » Sun Apr 15, 2018 4:15 pm

VincentD wrote:
Sun Apr 15, 2018 10:33 am
It is not just with anchovies - gourami is a hot favourite, and they do have other varieties of freshwater fish being used.\
Anchovy is salt water, gourami is fresh! Umm!

Also, the 'sterile' and 'non-sterile' versions, where the non-sterile has small little white worms crawling all over and considered the best.
I can't even get my head around this.

Plus, if you want to clear an apartment block in two minutes flat, cook this stuff in your kitchen. Durian pales in comparison.
I love durian. I bought some in London Chinatown once, triple wrapped in plastic, each layer tightly knotted, and took it into a cinema. Triple wrapped, so I found, is not enough to contain durian's pungency....

So, I absolutely have to sample some northern-style pla-ra (maybe should add 'before I die'). :)

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Re: Is pla-ra safe to eat?

Post by VincentD » Sun Apr 15, 2018 4:55 pm

Anchovies = fish sauce. Pla-raa is made with freshwater fish. My bad. Found out about the different varieties when at a temple around Ayuthaya, Wat Pikun Thong. Out in the boondocks, they had different varieties at different price points. It was pointed out that 'low-quality' stuff was made from any fish all mixed together. The person I was with at the time bought two 'peip' worth of two different varieties - a 'peip' is one 25 liter square tin can, the type you buy bulk cooking oil in. :roll:

The stuff with the worms in, I encountered at the wet market at Ban Mi. The old lady selling it was very proud of the product, and scoffed at the sterile variety. Apparently quite difficult to find..
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Re: Is pla-ra safe to eat?

Post by europtimiste » Sun Apr 15, 2018 5:41 pm

Anyway not worst and as safe as rotten fish which is a Swedish speciality. If no Swedish died due to this, you can eat pla-ra and will survive.

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Re: Is pla-ra safe to eat?

Post by Takiap » Mon Apr 16, 2018 8:08 am

You generally get two types. The one is just a very stinky brown liquid, while the other still has bits of semi-decayed bits of fish in it, along with the worms which have already been mentioned. Both versions are a health risk, and quite a serious risk. Yes, old Somchai up north has been eating i for years and will assure you it is okay, but personally, I would rather follow the advice of Somchai's brother who spent many years of his life getting an education, eventually graduating as a doctor.


Nam Prik is nothing like Pla Ra, and neither in Nam Pla. In days of old, Nam Pla was properly fermented, but these days it is mass produced using an entirely different procedure, and no doubt, as with all massed produced processed food, it will have all the necessary chemicals in it in order to ensure no nasties can survive. Old fashioned Nam Pla can still be found apparently, but you need to go out and search for it.

Pla Ra on the other hand is produced in anyone's back yard; loads of fresh water fish tossed into large black plastic basins like the builders use for mixing cement, and it is left and allowed to rot until Mrs. Somchai decides it is ready to use, or until some cash is needed for a new motorbike tyre.


Even Thailand's doctors warn against eating it, so that in itself should be enough to convince you. There is also another raw fish dish popular in Isaan which doctors warn against, but I can't recall the name right now.


And, for all you sushi lovers, you are also taking a risk. Sushi has seen a huge increase in popularity, and it has been accompanied by a big spike in people getting flukes because of the raw fish which in many is contaminated. This is something which doctors in Europe have been warning people about, so if it is a problem there, there I am sure it is even a bigger problem here where food hygiene is almost non-existent.



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Re: Is pla-ra safe to eat?

Post by 404cameljockey » Mon Apr 16, 2018 8:52 am

Takiap wrote:
Mon Apr 16, 2018 8:08 am
Nam Prik is nothing like Pla Ra, and neither in Nam Pla.
But nam phrik made from pla-ra would be a problem? Because only cooking not fermentation kills the flukes.
And, for all you sushi lovers, you are also taking a risk. Sushi has seen a huge increase in popularity, and it has been accompanied by a big spike in people getting flukes because of the raw fish which in many is contaminated. This is something which doctors in Europe have been warning people about, so if it is a problem there, there I am sure it is even a bigger problem here where food hygiene is almost non-existent.
Yes I also read that. Another of my thoughts above was is infection in humans linked only to high consumption? Daily sushi is a risk, once every month or so at a buffet not?

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Last edited by 404cameljockey on Mon Apr 16, 2018 9:03 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Is pla-ra safe to eat?

Post by 404cameljockey » Mon Apr 16, 2018 9:02 am

europtimiste wrote:
Sun Apr 15, 2018 5:41 pm
Anyway not worst and as safe as rotten fish which is a Swedish speciality. If no Swedish died due to this, you can eat pla-ra and will survive.
Wrong actually. We are talking about liver flukes here. Lutefisk and surstromming are made from saltwater fish. So no flukes.

Norwegian ratfisk is usually made from trout, and generally from farmed trout. There is an extremely low incidence of liver flukes in Norwegian farmed trout. Liver flukes are hardly found in fish from cold water countries.

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Re: Is pla-ra safe to eat?

Post by GroveHillWanderer » Mon Apr 16, 2018 9:33 am

europtimiste wrote:
Sun Apr 15, 2018 5:41 pm
Anyway not worst and as safe as rotten fish which is a Swedish speciality. If no Swedish died due to this, you can eat pla-ra and will survive.
That's dangerously misleading and untrue. Uncooked pla-ra often contains liver flukes which can cause liver cancer. The Swedish fermented fish dish (surströmming) is made from Baltic Herring, an ocean fish - and as the article on the link below mentions, liver flukes are only found in fresh water. The article also outlines the cancer dangers associated with eating uncooked pla ra.

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2011/04/26/ ... iland.html

Pla ra can be safe if it is properly-cooked but many people who like it claim that it doesn't taste as good if the fish has been cooked. However, according to blind taste tests done by a Thai doctor who has been calling people's attention to the dangers of pla ra for years, it is not possible to tell the difference between the raw and cooked versions.

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Re: Is pla-ra safe to eat?

Post by StevePIraq » Mon Apr 16, 2018 4:26 pm

I have a doctor friend who goes north regularly, he states you should never touch this stuff as there is no quality control, most is home made and full of harmful bacteria.
he states in Isaan the hospitals deal with a lot of cases of liver problems brought on by eating this stuff. However one should keep in mind up north they eat this almost daily.

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Re: Is pla-ra safe to eat?

Post by johnjar » Mon Apr 16, 2018 6:06 pm

"Pla ra is a traditional Thai seasoning produced by fermenting fish with rice bran or roasted rice powder and salt fermented in a closed container for at least six months. Pla ra is mostly used in northeastern food such as green papaya salad"

If it is fermented in salt and sealed jar for six months thus bacteria cannot survive, this has been the method of preserving for hundreds of years in the western world, Have been eating Somtam for for many years which is a healthy meal of fresh vegetables and complimented with Pla ra which gives a salad the real taste, and love it. Much healthier than the traditional english stodge :)

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Re: Is pla-ra safe to eat?

Post by Takiap » Tue Apr 17, 2018 7:07 am

johnjar wrote:
Mon Apr 16, 2018 6:06 pm
"Pla ra is a traditional Thai seasoning produced by fermenting fish with rice bran or roasted rice powder and salt fermented in a closed container for at least six months. Pla ra is mostly used in northeastern food such as green papaya salad"

If it is fermented in salt and sealed jar for six months thus bacteria cannot survive, this has been the method of preserving for hundreds of years in the western world, Have been eating Somtam for for many years which is a healthy meal of fresh vegetables and complimented with Pla ra which gives a salad the real taste, and love it. Much healthier than the traditional english stodge :)

It is only healthy until you add the pla-ra, and pla-ra is only used in the Isaan version of som tam.

The fact that you have been eating it for years does not mean that it is healthy for you. You can live with liver flukes for many years before problems arise.

If something smells rotten and stinks more than a decaying body, and it is full of wriggling worms, your own common sense should tell you that you should not be eating it.


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Re: Is pla-ra safe to eat?

Post by 404cameljockey » Tue Apr 17, 2018 8:39 am

johnjar wrote:
Mon Apr 16, 2018 6:06 pm
"Pla ra is a traditional Thai seasoning produced by fermenting fish with rice bran or roasted rice powder and salt fermented in a closed container for at least six months. Pla ra is mostly used in northeastern food such as green papaya salad"

If it is fermented in salt and sealed jar for six months thus bacteria cannot survive, this has been the method of preserving for hundreds of years in the western world, Have been eating Somtam for for many years which is a healthy meal of fresh vegetables and complimented with Pla ra which gives a salad the real taste, and love it. Much healthier than the traditional english stodge :)
I think you have a misunderstanding in that flukes are parasitic flatworms, not bacteria. Flukes can live for 20-30 years and must be killed in foodstuffs by either freezing or cooking.

As said above fermentation does not kill the flukes. Also I'm not sure about your mention of sealed jars, because even if we were talking about bacteria (we aren't), there are many forms of anaerobic bacteria that don't need oxygen to survive.

If you are regularly eating real, stinky, traditional pla-ra (where do you get it in Hua Hin?) don't worry, in China 15 million people carry liver fluke, so you have plenty of company! :)

PS - the Siriraj Medical Museum in BKK has a great display/showcase on parasites including nematode and trematode worms, I saw it a few months ago. Nasty little beggars!

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