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Beautiful but deadly…like most Bond women

OK, I know this photo is awesome and these fishies look harmless, but trust me…I know firsthand that they hold a deadly secret. But we’ll get to my story later. All you need to know is that these guys and their blowfish bretheren are extremely hazardous to human health, yet people celebrate them and munch on them all around Japan. I have the pictures to prove it.

NOT so beautiful but seriously dangerous…like a Bond villian

Forget conventional sushi. Fugu is apparently considered a delicacy, although I have no idea what could be considered “delicate” about this dude. This fugu restaurant display is actually very…er…modern, which might have something to do with the building it’s attached to.

This fugu is seriously old-school…OK, no more James Bond references!

He’s cute, don’t you think? I wanna take him home

But there’s a long tradition of fugu-chomping in Japan, so many of the shops are much more traditional-looking. When I was living in Western Japan, these types of displays were very common.

Are those keychains? I think I see googly-eyes

You can see fugu for sale hanging out (literally) in window displays, all puffed up and saying, “eat me!” to passers-by. As you can see, there are several types of fugu and these guys are really spikey. Ouch.

Watch for deadly poison underfoot

In places where fugu is particularly revered (like in Shimonoseki, according to the kana Japanese lettering), people even make manhole-covers in their honor. The manhole-marking trend isn’t really limited to fugu, but that’s another blog!

This is NOT my friend…he looks far too serious

So after all the fuss around fugu, what’s so great about it? Who has the guts to prepare it, and most importantly, how does it taste?

On the first point, I can tell you that I’ve only had fugu on two occasions. On the first, my friend who is a sushi chef hosted a “fugu party” for a group of us. We watched him cut the fugu into extremely thin slices, a delicate procedure that (he said) “helped him separate the poison from the stuff you can actually eat.” Wow, encouraging! Later, before we took our first bites, he said, “I’d like to propose a toast to life itself…we’ll know how that goes in a few hours.”

In his defense, he holds a fugu-preparation license from a top school, which one absolutely must have. And he was smiling when he said that! The fact that I’m still here is proof enough of his skill.

Ha! You risked your life to try me…and for what?!

So at the end of the day, how does fugu taste? Well, one common way to eat it is by slicing it into sashimi, or raw seafood strips. Then you pick each strip up with your chopsticks, dip it in Japanese “shouyu” sauce, and give it a go! For me, the melding of sashimi and sauce is usually a fantastic experience because the sauce activates the flavor already waiting to escape! I say “usually” because fugu didn’t do this for me. Unlike other types of sashimi like maguro or ebi, it just sat there in my mouth, mocking me.

This stew-style fugu was better…but not by much

You can also try “fugu nabe,” which is basically fugu thrown into a pot and boiled with a bunch of other goodies. I love nabe stew generally, so this was the best thing for me. We had this, and we even had fugu BBQ! No matter how it was prepared, though, the fugu itself was a big “meh” for me.

Think of this little guy before you do anything rash…

…and make sure your chef knows his stuff!

I can only conclude that people try fugu mainly so they can tell their friends about it! People can and do die, though, so it’s no laughing matter. I’d check around seriously before adding a fugu party to your itinerary in Japan.

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