Eat with Caution: Poisonous Blowfish

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“I want to eat fugu, but I don’t want to die.”

This old Japanese folk song pretty much sums up our feelings going into this culinary experience:

Fugu means “river pig,” or in Western Japan it’s sometimes called fuku, meaning “to blow” or oddly enough “luck” (you’ll need it!). This lethal blowfish can only be prepared by licensed chefs, but don’t worry. Only 14 people died from blowfish poisoning between 2002 and 2006. Even small amounts of poison can cause a tingling feeling on the tongue, something that we didn’t experience, but we heard is desired by some adventurous Japanese eaters. Nonetheless, it is a culinary delight in Japan, not for its taste (it’s a little bland), but for its fame. And it was something we most definitely had to try before leaving Japan! A typical fugu meal can cost about 10,000 -20,000 yen ($100 – $200) per person. The students who took us out to the restaurant, therefore, were more than hospitable! This is what we ate:

Fugu-sashi: Thinly sliced raw fugu. Served with ponzu dipping sauce (a citrus-y soy sauce).

A salad made with the raw skin of the fugu, fugu meat, green onions and a light citrus dressing.

Fugu Kara-age: Floured and deep fried and sprinkled with lemon (this was my personal favorite)!

Fugu-chiri: Fugu, cabbage, tofu, onions, and mushrooms simmered in broth. Served with ponzu dipping sauce.

After we had eaten all of the fugu and veggies out of the soup pot (and were extremely full I might add), the waitress came to our table, added raw egg, salt and rice to the pot, and served us yet another course garnished with nori (seaweed) and green onions!

This lovely (and excessive) meal was accompanied by a special drink made of sake, lemon, and honey, and of course some good ‘ole Japanese beer, Asahi Super Dry. Luckily, we weren’t offered the traditional Fugu Hire-zake drink, where a grilled fugu fin is put into a hot sake drink. Not sure if I could have handled that one … I don’t mix my fish with my alcohol.

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