View Full Version : Feb 9th is National Fugu Day in Japan

John Lindsey
4th February 2003, 12:52
Feb 9th is National Fugu Day in Japan -Dangerous Delicacy was once Banned


<P> SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [Copyright 2003 The Yomiuri Shimbun The Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo) ] February 3, 2003 It takes just a couple of minutes for an experienced chef to turn a live fugu puffer fish, fresh from the tank, into chunks of meat for a nabe stew and white fillet for sashimi. In the process, the fish's infamous poisonous organs are ever-so-carefully separated from its choice edible bits.

At a fugu restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo, the preparation was so quick that the large chunks of fugu meat, placed on a bed of hakusai cabbage, were still moving when the tray was placed before customers who, impressed with this freshness, immediately began eating and enjoying this winter delicacy.

Fugu is widely known for its deadly toxin. Indeed, the fish is also known as teppo (gun) because of its potential to become a game of Russian roulette when prepared by untrained hands.

But this danger hasn't kept fugu from becoming an extremely popular fish, in spite of its expense, which can amount to tens of thousands of yen at fancy restaurants in Tokyo.

What, then, is the charm of fugu?

Takeshi Amido, of the association of businesses dealing in fugu in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, explained it with a laugh. 'Of course, it's because fugu tastes good,' he said. 'And the elastic texture of the meat is another reason for its popularity.'

Daichi Sakamoto, who owns Torafugu Tei, a restaurant in Ginza, said: 'You can get tired of eating other kinds of fish, like tuna or yellowtail, because of their oily flavors. But not fugu, because of its simple but delicate taste.'

To meet the demand for fugu, and avoid fugu poisoning, each prefecture has established regulations to restrict the commercial handling of the potentially deadly fish.

In Tokyo, fugu cooks have to obtain a special license to prepare the fish, and restaurants that offer fugu have to be certified by the metropolitan government.

According to Hideki Kadobayashi, an official at the Tokyo metropolitan government's public health bureau, there are about 3,800 facilities that offer fugu in Tokyo, including restaurants and speciality shops that separate the poisonous parts from the edible parts and sell the prepared fugu to restaurants.

Following the discovery of fugu bones in shell mounds, it is now believed that people in Japan began eating fugu thousands of years ago in the Jomon period (ca 10,000 B.C.-300 B.C.).

But in the history of Japan, there have been times when eating fugu was totally banned. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, in the 16th century, was just one of the historical figures who were worried about the loss of his men to fugu poisoning.

According to Amido, Hirobumi Ito (1841-1909), who became the first prime minister of Japan, was responsible for putting fugu back on the menu in Japanese restaurants. When he visited Shimonoseki and ate fugu, Ito was so impressed by its taste that he requested the resumption of eating fugu in the prefecture, a trend that later spread to other prefectures.

Typical fugu dishes include nabe, also known as tecchiri, a stew of large chunks of fugu with tofu and vegetables such as hakusai, leeks and shiitake mushrooms, in a miso-based soup or clear seaweed broth. Fugu skins are also added to the dish.

Sakamoto said that fugu skin is rich in collagen, which is believed to be good for the human skin. 'For that reason, fugu skin is especially popular among female customers,' he said.

The ingredients, boiled in the broth, are then dipped in a sauce that is a mixture of soy sauce and citrus juice. A combination of grated daikon and chili pepper, called momiji-oroshi, adds additional flavor to the sauce.

The sour sauce certainly enhances one's appetite, but miso-based soup also suits fugu well. 'The charm of fugu is that it goes with all kinds of sauces because of its simple taste,' Amido said.

When most of the ingredients in the nabe have disappeared inside diners' mouths, it's time to enjoy fugu zosui, a rice porridge. Fugu also makes a good broth, which is soaked up by the rice.

Sashimi, or tessa, is another typical fugu dish. Because the white flesh of the fugu is quite elastic, it can be sliced so thin that you can see the pattern of the plate through the sashimi. Fugu skin is also served as sashimi.

The taste of fugu, particularly as sashimi, is very delicate. However, its slight flavor is enhanced by chewing the elastic flesh.

At Torafugu Tei, a set of fugu dishes, called Torafugu Kosu, costs 4,980 yen, and includes nabe, sashimi and deep fried fugu, as well as the ingredients for zosui.

Torafugu Tei uses farmed fugu, but there are other restaurants in Tokyo that offer wild fugu, which are generally more expensive.

Once such establishment, Isami, a casual Japanese-style bar in Shinjuku, offers wild fugu at 3,500 yen for a plate of sashimi alone.

Amido said that the differences between cultivated and wild fugu have decreased due to advancements in cultivating technology.

One seasonal delicacy is fugu testicles. As fugu generally lay eggs in spring, the testicles are mature and tasty in the winter.

Amido said that fugu meat is most elastic in winter because of the relatively low temperature of the seawater. 'The best season for eating fugu is January or February,' he said.

But let's get back to that poison thing. Fugu contains a neurotoxin, called tetrodotoxin, that is found in the organs, particularly in the kidneys and ovaries.

Kadobayashi warned that those who have no expertise in processing fugu should never, ever try to prepare the fish themselves.

In Japan, 22 kinds of fugu have been approved by the government for use in restaurants. But the poison is found in different organs, and sometimes even in muscle tissue and skin, in different fugu, so a lot of training is required to know which parts to keep and which to throw away.

As a result, the test for a fugu chef license in Tokyo is a very difficult one. In addition to a thorough knowledge of fugu, examinees have to demonstrate their fugu-processing ability to make sure that they will offer safe, nontoxic fugu to their customers.

* * *

The association of fugu dealers in Shimonoseki has designated Feb. 9 Fugu Day, and in commemoration, the annual fugu fair will be held this year on Feb. 11 at Minami Haedomari Market in the city. Free fugu nabe will be served to the first 1,000 visitors to the market. For more information, visit the association's Web site at www.fuku.com/.

Don Cunningham
4th February 2003, 17:59
Okay, it took me a few years before I finally tried fugu. Believe me, the taste and texture is highly overrated. I think it is the potential thrill of facing danger that makes fugu so popular.

6th March 2003, 05:30
I agree with Don. Fugu is not particularly appetising; the thrill comes from the feeling that you're cheating death each time you survive a bite.
Silly info: "Fugu" is written as "river pig" in Japanese. ͓
The fish is of the order Teterodontidiae, and its poison is called teterodotoxin.
I would still prefer a Big Mac and Fries. ;)

13th March 2003, 05:09
Funny how the article doesn't mention the people who die each year from eating fugu.

Earl Hartman
11th April 2003, 21:27
I had fugu nabe once a long time ago. It was no big deal.

The people who die from eating fugu are the idiots who go fishing, catch a fugu, and think they can prepare it properly themselves. When I lived there, I don't remember ever hearing of anybody getting poisoned at a restaurant.

I think it's the cheating death thing that makes fugu popular. It is my understanding that a popular "virility drink" among men who frequent fugu establishments is the ground testes of the fugu mixed with sake. Apparently, the testes are very similar in appearance to the liver, which, AFAIK, is the organ that carries the poison; so the diner who orders this drink is really playing close to the edge, betting that the chef is good enough not to make a mistake.

12th April 2003, 10:46
Does it beat skydiving?


Earl Hartman
13th April 2003, 06:41
Dunno. Never felt like eating fish balls.