Throughout the world, fugu, or blowfish, is only eaten in Japan. It’s history spans over a thousand years and is in the roots of Japanese culture and cuisine.
The risk of danger that accompanies eating fugu has made it a type of delicacy, among chefs and diners. The intestines, ovaries and liver of fugu contain a poison called tetrodotoxin, which is 1,200 times deadlier than cyanide. The toxin is so potent that a single fish has enough poison to kill 30 people. Chef’s must obtain government certification to fillet Fugu. First you have to be a licensed chef for at least five years before applying for Fugu certification. The certification process then involves a few years of rigorous training and testing. Even then, only 35% of people undergoing this training succeed to become a fugu chef.
I had never had fugu before, and on this trip to Osaka, my friend said he would take us to a fugu restaurant. What an experience this was. Firstly, the restaurant is for members only - you cannot just go to this restaurant, you have to be a member or go with someone who is a member. The restaurant is situated in a residential apartment, hidden away from the public.
Fugu restaurants usually serve a multiple-course meal that typically includes sashimi, nabe hotpot, deep fried karaage, rice porridge and hot sake serve with a grilled fugu fin. At this specific restaurant we went to, they also had a specialty yaki fugu. Here they use just the meat of the blowfish, cook it on a grill (similar to the way you make yakiniku where you grill slices of beef or pork). They use two cuts of meat for yakifugu: totomi, the third layer of meat from the topmost layer of skin, and mikawa, one layer further inside the totomi. They grill this over an open gas flame, and I have to say, this was by far my favourite dish.
Fin Sake (Hire-sake) is made using blowfish fins which are aged for a day, washed and then dried in full sunlight to remove any trace of blood. The dried fins are then roasted in an oven to bring out the savoury flavour. The fins are then grilled one by one to remove any odours. The fin is then served with warm sake and lit on fire. What a great aroma it gives to the sake, and such a pleasure to drink!
There’s always a type of ‘myth’ that goes along with eating fugu - that you risk your life, and although this is true due to the fact that it is a poisonous fish, the cases are very rare as only the most experienced fugu chefs are able to serve the dish to you. The cases of actual fugu deaths annually are close to none. The most famous fugu death case was that of the kabuki actor and national living treasure Bando Mitsugoro VIII, who died in 1975 after he convinced the chef that he had developed a natural resistance to the toxin’s crippling effects. He died within 4 hours of eating the fugu liver.
I always wondered why people would go out their way to eat fugu when there was a danger associated with it. Now I know why. Firstly because there’s hardly any danger at all, since you are eating from licensed chefs. And secondly, it is one of the tastiest meals I have ever had!! And the whole experience is just magical…