Single Bite Of Koi Pla Thai Dish Can Give You Liver Cancer Warns Doctor Narong Khuntikeo

By Haider Ali in Food On 12th September 2023

While I'm sure we all enjoy some Pad Thai, a substantial bowl of Tom Yum soup, and the staple Thai green chicken curry, there is one dish from the well-known cuisine that could be harmful to your health.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

So much so that consuming even a single taste of the dish could cause liver cancer.

The lethal chow is thought to kill 20,000 people in Thailand annually because it is so carcinogenic.

The dish in issue is quite well-liked in the Thai province of Khon Kaen, despite the fact that you're not likely to find it on your neighborhood Thai takeout menu.

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Millions of Thai people enjoy a dish known as koi pla, which is a platter of minced raw fish mashed up with herbs, spices, and lemon juice.

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It is especially well-liked in Isaan, one of the country's poorest provinces.

Actually, parasitic flatworms, sometimes known as live flukes, that reside inside fish are what make people who eat them acquire the deadly liver cancer.

Due to the high consumption of raw fish meal, Isaan has the highest recorded incidence of cholangiocarcinoma, or bile duct cancer, in the world. 

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The parasites are native to freshwater fish in the Mekong region.

After both of his parents tragically passed away from liver cancer after devouring the delicacy, a doctor in Thailand named Narong Khuntikeo is now fighting to ban it.

"It’s a very big health burden around here," liver surgeon Narong Khuntikeo told Agence France-Presse.

He continued: "But nobody knows about this because they die quietly, like leaves falling from a tree."

If untreated by surgery, the "silent killer" illness has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers.

Khuntikeo has spent the last four years checking Isaan villager residents for the parasite with the assistance of scientists, medical professionals, and anthropologists.

The doctor discovered that up to 80% of residents from some towns had consumed the lethal parasite using ultrasound machines and urine testing kits.

While working with local health officials to introduce a school curriculum aimed at teaching kids about the dangers of eating raw foods, Khuntikeo has said he has encountered resistance from the elder generation.

"They’ll say: 'Oh well, there are many ways to die'," the health professional said.

"But I cannot accept this answer."

Those unwilling to change despite the health risk report that cooking the fish, which is the best way to get rid of the parasite, spoils the flavor entirely.

In the complex world of gastronomy, where flavors, traditions, and risks intertwine, the story of koi pla serves as a stark reminder of the importance of knowledge and awareness in safeguarding our health.