Fugu or blowfish in English is an ugly, scales fish that puffs up to grotesque proportions when annoyed. While this ugly-looking fish can turn off anyone, it has intrigued gourmets for millennia from Pharaoh Ti in Egypt of antiquity, to today’s Japanese industrialists willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a small portion, and even gambling with their very lives.
Fugu flesh contains tetrodotoxin – a substance 500 times deadlier than cyanide. The dangers of eating fugu are well documented and widely available to all interested in consuming this “delicacy”, but Japanese gourmets eat it regardless of all dangers.
The government has very strict rules before certifying a chef to be proficient in fugu preparation. The individual must attend classes for three years ad pass a three-part set of tests – written, specie identification, and practical – before certification.
Disposing of fugu remnants is strictly regulated, since homeless people in Tokyo rummaging restaurant garbage have mistakenly ingested fugu and died.
Tokyo, a city with a population of 12.3 million, has 1500 restaurants entitled to serve fugu. Most of them serve “farmed” fugu, which is less expensive and less toxic. From October to March, fugu toxin levels are low with the prime period being January to February. In Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish market, the world’s largest, several vendors and restaurants serve fugu.
Despite all the dangers, Japanese gourmets consume 20,000 metric tonnes of fugu and pay dearly for the privilege. (The cost of one portion ranges between US $ 200.00 to 500.00 pending on the location and level of luxury of the restaurant).
Why do people eat fugu knowing that it may be poisonous? Simply put, it is addictive like tobacco, alcohol, and recreational drugs, or any other addictive substance.
The toxicity of fugu is so high that two milligrams (which can fit on the head of a pin can kill). Up to 100 Japanese die every year from eating fugu. The thrill seems to attract gourmets.
Fugu’s toxins affect individuals differently. Rare cases have been reported where consumers simply fell into a coma, but “reappeared” after eight days during burial ceremonies. Now the government has enacted a law that requires a fugu consumers who fall comatose be laid next to a coffin for a minimum of three days before burial, and prudent undertakers wait until the body starts to decompose.
After all the information the question remains? How does fugu taste? According to information provided to me it is tasteless. Some gourmets claim to detect a fait cherry fragrance. A few imaginative and poetic Japanese liken the taste and fragrance to spring rain dripping on a stone. To the western palate, this description sounds like the figment of a vivid imagination.
Consuming fugu may be compared to Russian roulette in food.
Interestingly enough, the high-end restaurant of an American hotel chain in Tokyo offers a fugu menu for US $ 240.00 (2004 price) consisting of nikogori (puffer jelly), usuzukuri (thinly sliced raw fugu), chirinabe (boiled fugu ad vegetables) and zosui (fugu porridge and pickled vegetables)
Do you want to try it?