Fugu, the poisonous pufferfish ふぐ
The pufferfish swells in defence when he feels attacked.
The slices of fugu (sashimi) are a very refined delicacy.
A woodblock print of fugu.
Fugu for sale at a fishmonger.
It's not that it's particularly tasty, but pufferfish attracts thrill seekers and the merely curious. Its secret: the poison in its organs, and the fact that only a few skilful chefs can neutralize its poison.
It is rare, and very expensive, and normally inedible. But the real star isn't the pufferfish, its the cook that prepares it. There are only a few dozen chefs in Japan that know how to prepare fugu, deftly removing several of its organs (liver, ovaries and eyes) which contain tetrodotoxin, a deadly poison.
A state certificate is mandatory to open a fugu restaurant in Japan, most of which are around the two ports that yield the biggest catch of this famous fish. One is Shimonoseki (in southwestern Honshu) and the other is Oita, between the spa towns of Beppu and Usuki (Kyushu). Shimonoseki proclaims itself "the Japanese capital of fugu" and pays tribute to its favorite fish each year on February 9th.
Sashimi and nabe
A fugu menu starts with a plate of very thin slices of raw fugu, sashimi of sublime translucent flesh.
After enjoying the raw fish, what remains is then then boiled, including the head, immersed in a nabe pot with mushrooms, vegetables, tofu, and all washed down with a glass of hirezake (a sake bottle which contains a fugu fin).
Even without going to Shimonoseki or Oita, there are very famous fugu restaurants in Tokyo, for example the famous Usukifugu Yamadaya (a Michelin-starred restaurant, so pay attention to the bill...) and Zuboraya in Osaka.
A taste for danger
It's at the end of the meal that the truth of the pufferfish comes to light, your lips lightly tingling by the small traces of poison still left in the fish. You realize that fugu is ultimately rather bland. Only the subtle taste of the seasonings linger... and the strange sensation of having tasted death, and lived to tell the tale.
Be careful to not join the list of diners that have left the restaurant on a stretcher, such as the famous kabuki actor Bando Mitsugoro VIII (1975), who wanted to impress his guests by daring to taste the liver of the pufferfish.
How to prepare fugu, video TokyoWalker CH.