Deadly Delicacies: Fugu Fish

Fugu Fish at Market. Source:  Janne Moren

Fugu Fish at Market. Source: Janne Moren

Are you tired of your old, boring foods? Here's a killer dish to spice up your life. For thousands of years, the fugu fish, also known as the pufferfish, has brought a sense of excitement to all the delicacy-eaters, danger-seekers, and risk takers around the world. It contains a deadly amount of tetrodotoxin in its liver, eyes, skin, and other internal organs that can paralyze and lead to asphyxiation. The fugu fish's name is derived from the Chinese and Japanese way of saying "river pig" because it looks like a pig... in the river. Obviously. It's that funny-looking fish that puffs itself up with water to make it look buffer to its predators.

As one of the world's most deadliest delicacies, the fugu fish's poison is estimated to be several times more lethal than cyanide. Deadly. Like my charm and strikingly good looks. Even a small dose has the lethal power to induce dizziness, exhaustion, nausea, and headache. Even worse, the poison shuts down electrical signaling in the nervous system, paralyzes the muscle tissues, and eventually leads to asphyxiation without treatment. There is no known antidote to its poison. So appetizing.

Fugu Fish. Source:  Toyohara

Fugu Fish. Source: Toyohara

Some research companies have found a way to mass-produce safe fugu fish. Researchers have concluded that the fugu fish's poison actually comes from eating bacteria that contains tetrodotoxin. The fugu fish is immune to this poison. What a boss. Many farmers keep the fugu away from this bacteria and, therefore, produce poison-free fugu fish. While the original poisonous fugu fish farmers may feel threatened, the poison-free fugu serves a different market. The attractiveness of the poison-laded fugu fish is in the danger and the risk. On the other hand, the poison-free fugu serves those who only wish to taste the fish. Many seem to agree that the fishes don't differ much on taste. 

Due to serious and legitimate health concerns, preparation of the fugu fish is controlled by law. Fugu chefs must train for two to three years to gain certification. The exam consists of a written test, an identification test, a practical test, and a real fugu preparation test where the candidates must eat the fish they prepared themselves. About two-thirds of the candidates pass. Assuming the preparation part is the hardest, does that mean a third of them die?! Sounds like a promising career path. Despite these considerably low passing rates, there are over 3,800 fugu restaurants in Japan. Just to be safe, you can take a trip to Shimonoseki, Japan, where there have been no fugu-related deaths. 

Sliced Fugu Fish. Source:  El Scrapeo

Sliced Fugu Fish. Source: El Scrapeo

The thrill of eating something dangerous can be addictive. Who doesn't want to be a badass? A full meal of fugu will cost about 20,000 yen or about $200 dollars while a smaller dish can cost anywhere between 2,000 to 5,000 yen ($20-$50 dollars). A special knife, called the fugu hiki, is a long slender knife used to cut the fish into delicate, thin slices. Fugu is often eaten raw as sashimi. Other times, fugu is served boiled, fried, grilled with teriyaki sauce, as a stew, or as a sake. The fugu chef cuts the fish into paper-thin slices. The flavor is said to taste like chicken with a jelly-like texture. This is the true chicken of the sea... but deadly . 

Interested in more? Check out this video of a chef preparing the fugu fish.Or this article about the fugu fish for more information.