If you have ever thought that bungee jumping or roller coasters are dangerous, you would be surprised that eating fish can be more life-threatening. In Japan, people have been enjoying the sweet taste of fugu fish for hundreds of years despite the venom flowing through its bloodstream.
Fugu is a highly appreciated and luxury dish in Asiatic gastronomy. This fish is easily recognizable for its round bloated body covered with spikes which serve to fugu as a defense mechanism from predators. Fugu is not venomous by its nature however, it only becomes a danger when it eats bacteria and algae which contain a poison called tetrodotoxin which stays in the fish’s liver, reproductive organs, and eyes. The victim of the tetrodotoxin will die in excruciating agony, and how fast only depends on the amount of the poison taken. The whole body becomes paralyzed while the victim is completely conscious and the numbness of the limbs is followed by convulsions ended by a respiratory failure in not more than 24 hours. Although fugu has caused 23 deaths since 2000 that does not stop the Japanese from eating 10,000 tons of fugu each year.
So, why do they risk their lives to eat fugu and how do they survive?
Fugu is a delicacy eaten during winter because its meat is more elastic and sweeter if it is caught in December and January. It is actually pretty healthy for a fish with poison worse than cyanide in the bloodstream, fugu is low in fat and high in protein, and it is a powerful aphrodisiac. Dodging the bullet with this fish is a difficult task so making fugu a delicious and safe dish to eat is left to licensed chefs. It takes three years for chefs to get ready for the 2-hour exam on fugu preparation. The chef needs to cut fugu while it is still alive with a special knife called fugu hiki in order to separate the poisonous parts from the edible ones.
There is a variety of ways of preparing this deadly fish. A common dish where fugu is served raw is called Fugu Sashimi, or it can be prepared in a hotpot called Tecchiri. The most popular dish is Fugu Karaage which is deep-fried fugu and the most daring fugu dish would probably be Fugu Shirako, which is a term for male fugu genitalia, usually eaten raw or deep-fried. Nothing goes to waste with fugu, even the skin is sliced and served with some ponzu, and it is not uncommon to see lanterns made of fugu hanging in front of the fugu restaurants.
The price of fugu is not cheap too, it ranges from 10,000 yens (around 75 euros) to your life, depending on whether you want to try to prepare it yourself or you would like to try out some of the fugu restaurants in Shimonoseki, the Japanese capital of fugu.