Wild-caught spotted knifefish - Chitala ornata

Chitala ornata – The spotted knifefish

Chitala ornata, the spotted knifefish, is a knifefish species with big spots on the body native to freshwater habitats in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Like all knifefish, it is a nocturnal tropical fish with a long body that resembles a knife. Other common names include: clown featherback, clown knifefish.

Wild-caught spotted knifefish - Chitala ornata - clown featherback, clown knifefish
Wild-caught spotted knifefish – Chitala ornata – in Đăk Bla River, Kon Tum province
  • Family: Notopteridae
  • Genus: Chitala
  • Species: Chitala ornata
  • English names: spotted knifefish, clown featherback, clown knifefish
  • Vietnamese names: thác lác cườm, thát lát cườm, cá cườm, nàng hai

The clown knifefish is one of the two common knifefish in Vietnam, the other being Notopterus notopterus. Both are farmed as food, especially in Hậu Giang province.

Clown featherback (knifefish) and fish paste
Clown featherback (knifefish) and fish paste

Culinary uses

Like all knifefish or featherbacks in Vietnam, the spotted knifefish are often processed to make ground fish paste. Fresh fish paste can be cooked in knifefish soup. Fried or grilled fish paste (in form of fistcakes) can be consumed as food, or an ingredient for other dishes.

Knifefish fistcakes
Knifefish fistcakes – chả cá thát lát – is very popular in Vietnam

Various ways of cooking knifefish are also acknowlege.

Deep-fried spotted knifefish with lemongrass
Deep-fried spotted knifefish with lemongrass
steamed knifefish paste with greens
Steamed knifefish paste with greens
Knifefish ball soup with bitter gourd
Knifefish ball soup with bitter gourd
Knifefish ball soup with chrysanthemum greens
Knifefish ball soup with chrysanthemum greens
roasted knifefish paste on sugarcane sticks
Roasted knifefish paste on sugarcane sticks
deboned knifefish with salted eggs
Deboned knifefish with salted eggs

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