Stronger Than Cyanide: Eating Japan’s Deadly Blowfish

Just as I started my China outrageous food post with a throwback to a 90s TV show, I’d like to do the same thing here.

I’m sure almost everyone has seen The Simpsons at one time or another; maybe you’ve seen the episode where Homer orders the Japanese blowfish which, if not prepared correctly, can kill you. Needless to say it isn’t prepared correctly and the big man almost succumbs to the poison. I can’t quite remember how it ends, but seeing as the show is still going on today I’m sure you can make an informed guess.

Anyway, back to reality and this fish wasn’t just something made up for comedy purposes. ‘Fugu’ is something of a delicacy in Japan and can set you back a small fortune depending on where you eat it. I’m not sure about you, but with something like this I’m happy to pay a little more for quality products and – of course – chefs. The chefs themselves have to gain a special licence after some fairly vigorous training (I imagine/hope), so that’s slightly comforting I guess. The other alternative would just be to not eat it at all, but that was never really an option for me once I got the invite was it?

Oh yeah, it’s also 200 times more poisonous than cyanide, according to the BBC.

Anyway, my friend and former colleague Madoka works at a Fugu restaurant in the Kanda area of Tokyo. Kanda is a notorious salaryman area, and I seem to be making a habit of frequenting these places at the moment. Embracing the culture and all that. With us having a school holiday at the end of November, it seemed like a good idea to get a few people together and experience this deadly delicacy for ourselves!

Putting on a brave face.

Putting on a brave face.

Upon our arrival at 11.55am we were handed a two-hour all you can drink menu, which was an excellent start. Madoka had taken care of our order and got us a six-course meal so we could try fugu in many different forms. First up was an appetiser consisting of thin strips of fugu and an absolute boatload of spring onions.

More spring onions than anyone could ever need.

More spring onions than anyone could ever need.

First impressions were that this particular cut was quite tough, and the spring onions made it quite difficult to figure out a taste. On the plus side, I couldn’t feel any swelling in my throat and I was still breathing unassisted. So far, so good.

Next up was the sashimi (raw fish, to you and I) which was very beautifully prepared and sliced so thinly you could actually see through it.

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So thin it’s hardly there!

Again, it was quite difficult to put my finger on the taste because it was paper thin and seemed to disappear before it touched my tastebuds.

The dishes started to get bigger at this point and next up was a particularly chunky cut of raw fugu on some cabbage, topped with even more spring onions and a particularly citrusy dressing. The sauce was a little strong but it was good to finally sink my teeth into something substantial, as the fugu resembled a chicken breast (albeit a raw one) more than a piece of fish.

They like spring onions here.

They REALLY like spring onions here.

The chefs may have sensed the presence of two English lads in the restaurant as next we were served a plate of deep fried fugu. Now fish and chips is my favourite meal in the world, and this battered fish was the perfect way to my heart. Again, it was a little chunkier and meatier than the standard chippy fish, but delicious nonetheless!

Just missing some chips and mushy peas!

Just missing some chips and mushy peas!

It seemed like the main event was up next as a whicker basket was plonked in front of us with a sheet of what looked to me like ordinary paper in it. Perhaps more impressive than anything else was the fact that the paper was able to hold and not break when the waitress poured boiling hot stock in it to make a sort of hot pot dish.

I promise this is fish, not chicken.

I promise this is fish, not chicken.

We were given a plate of fugu – which again looked suspiciously like raw chicken – and vegetables and we allowed Madoka to take the lead in preparing the hot pot, or ‘nabe’ as it’s known here.

The state of this picture should tell you how hot this was!

The state of this picture should tell you how hot this was!

This dish was served with another bowl of very strong citrus sauce for dipping and certainly gave the fish a bit of a kick. I’m not sure if ‘overpowering’ is the word but it certainly dominated the dish!

The end product!

The end product!

At this point Madoka decided that the three of us who hadn’t been to the restaurant before should try a ‘special’ drink which basically consisted of fugu fin and sake.

Oh yeah, you set it on fire too.

I was initially a little skeptical of the fact Madoka wasn’t having one herself, but as I’m sure you know by now I’ll try anything once and truth be told it was alright. You couldn’t really taste the fish and warm nihonshu is always a winner!

Much nicer than it looks and sounds!

Much nicer than it looks and sounds!

...although my face suggests otherwise!

…although my face suggests otherwise!

Finally it was time to round off the meal with a sort of egg and rice soup. I’m not sure I’ve quite got the hang of finishing a meal with a rice or noodle soup as seems to be the norm in many places here, but when in Rome…

A little bit too safe for my liking!

A little bit too safe for my liking!

After a small bowl of ice cream it was time to settle up our (heavily discounted – ¥13,000 per person down to ¥5,000!) bill and head on to our next destination: a nearby darts bar!

I’m still here – alive and kicking – to tell the story three weeks on, so I think it’s safe to say we had a good chef. I only researched the facts and figures about fugu afterwards, so I went into the experience a little blind which was probably a good thing! Apparently a few people die every year from it and I’m not really sure any food is worth that risk.

Overall though it was a great experience and the food itself was pretty tasty too. That said, I don’t think I’ll be in a rush to eat it again unless we get another massive staff discount…I’m on an English teacher’s wage, remember!

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