How I survived the world's most dangerous delicacy!


When in Japan, I told myself that I will try this. It is not gross and I'm not Andrew Zimmern, but the Fugu is something I've always wanted to get hint of. Just to be sure I wasn't missing out on the culinary brilliance of Japanese food by prematurely dying in Japan, I ensured that I had Ramen, Sushi, Tendon in Tokyo, a similar set of dishes in Osaka, went all the way to Kobe to have the world's best beef, finished a Michelin-starred-2.5 hour waiting-in-line okonomoyaki (that I got in in half hour, but that story is for another day), gorged on melon pan, sakura and all types of kit-kat and on my last evening, and after ensuring there is absolutely nothing left to eat in Japan, at 6 PM, I said a prayer and entered the Fugu restaurant. 

For those who know it, Fugu sends shivers down their spine! For those who don't, well, Fugu can be instant death. A delicacy in Japan, Fugu requires chefs to undergo stringent training (around 3 years) to get the licence to serve this fish. In most of Europe, this fish is banned altogether. 

What is this fish? Called the puffer or blower fish, this fish supposedly blows or puffs up by sucking water into its belly when threatened. Some fish types in this family also have spines like a porcupine that can pierce through the skin. Well, the toxin in the fish, tetrodotoxin can cause instant death! To put it in perspective, it is about a thousand times more dangerous than cyanide and one fish has enough poison to kill about 30 people.

That brings us to the question - why do people eat this fish?

Well, one for those who aren't aware, they probably eat it by mistake, which is where most of the deaths associated with fugu consumption comes from. The internal organs of fish, including the guts, ovaries, liver etc are lethal, but once they are safely out of the way, the flesh is harmless. I believe chefs who serve the fish are required to eat a slice of every fish they pass on to their customers.

So how is this cooked? Well, in many ways, but what kind of cooking comes to mind when you think of fish in Japan? Yup, uncooked! The fugu sashimi is the most popular way of consuming this fish. The fish is a translucent white, and is usually arranged on floral plates to let you see the plate design through the (rather innocent looking fish). So basically, you take the most poisonous fish in the world and eat it without cooking. Fun!

Once seated in the restaurant, the Japanese human and my Google translate ensured that I was told and made aware of the dangers and that I am committing to this madness on my free will. And then in 10 minutes the plate arrived. The innocent looking plate. 

I said another round of prayers! And took the first bite of the sashimi without the sides or the soy. I waited for the magic to happen and for enlightenment to hit me telling me why this dangerous delicacy was worth risking your life for.  I'm still waiting! Certainly not worth risking your life for, since most of the spice and flavour is the fear. For the second bite, I dipped it in soy and took the bite and it was way way better. The fish beautifully soaked up the soy colour and flavour and much more enjoyable. 

But four bites later, the trouble started. My stomach started to hurt. I had read up about the allergy to this fish and also about what happens if you do end up with traces of tetrodotoxin and apparently the first symptom is numbness around your mouth. I didn't have that, but my stomach was starting to hurt more. I quickly gulped water and left the restaurant hoping it will get better, but it only got worse. 

My hotel was a 20 minute walk away. I decided to take the trek back, but the pain just got worse all along the way back. I was looking for my antacid in my travel med box, but when have you ever found something when you need it the most. The pain was getting worse. I wrote a small email with a mini WILL to email back to my family, ate 2 pieces of hajmola candy (the first thing I found) and lied down. Before I hit the send button, I think I passed out. When I woke up 10 minutes later, there was no pain, no dream, no nothing. I was fine. I was alive. 

Beaming with relief, I walked back to the food street to make sure my evening was filled again with amazing Japanese food, before I took the plane out next morning. Did you think I was going to quietly spend the night without more food? Of course you didn't think that. You know me better than that, don't you?

Would I ever eat Fugu again? Nope. Am I glad that I did it? Absolutely. Was it worth it? For someone like me chasing food and history, it was worth it, but purely from a taste perspective, nope. Not at all! Like I said before, the flavour is actually the fear and the excitement. 

The best way to describe the fugu is a 'colourless, odourless, tasteless, useless' fish! There, I said it! 

* I just found out that the restaurant that has been serving fugu for nearly a century in Dotonburi has been shut down due to the pandemic. While this blog post is my personal opinion, I do feel bad that an institution of sorts has fallen prey to COVID-19. Also, while there is no doubt that this is a dangerous fish to consume, if you eat this at a licensed restaurant in Japan (I don't know about other countries), chances are you have a statistically low risk of dying. Eat at your own risk. 


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Grub Waz: How I survived the world's most dangerous delicacy!
How I survived the world's most dangerous delicacy!
Grub Waz
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