I always dreamed of trying and experiencing something unique. Sort of like marking significant milestones in my life. One such milestone is cheating death by eating Fugu or what is commonly known as pufferfish or blowfish.
Fugu? What is Fugu (Pufferfish aka Blowfish)?
For those wondering what Fugu is, National Geographic nicely describes this deadly fish as:
Biologists think pufferfish, also known as blowfish, developed their famous “inflatability” because their slow, somewhat clumsy swimming style makes them vulnerable to predators. In lieu of escape, pufferfish use their highly elastic stomachs and the ability to quickly ingest huge amounts of water (and even air when necessary) to turn themselves into a virtually inedible ball several times their normal size. Some species also have spines on their skin to make them even less palatable.
A predator that manages to snag a puffer before it inflates won’t feel lucky for long. Almost all pufferfish contain tetrodotoxin, a substance that makes them foul tasting and often lethal to fish. To humans, tetrodotoxin is deadly, up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. There is enough toxin in one pufferfish to kill 30 adult humans, and there is no known antidote.
I was about to put something 1200 times deadlier than cyanide on my plate and hope to almighty God that I don’t die from it.
Well sort of.
Pufferfish, if prepared correctly is not toxic. Only certain parts of the fish will cause death if ingested. The emphasis here is “if prepared correctly”.
If done wrongly, I would be 6 feet under.
Evidently, I didn’t die. If not, you will be the first person reading a blog entry from the other world.
How does Pufferfish Taste Like?
I had it in Tokyo, Japan after my whirlwind tour of Hokkaido with my girlfriend where we visited Hakodate, Noboribetsu, Sapporo and Otaru. It was our last meal in Tokyo and we wanted to try something unique.
We went for Fugu at Torafugu-tei near the famous Shibuya Crossing. You can’t miss it since it has a huge ass Fugu right above the store front!
This restaurant serves a variety of Fugu called “Tiger Blowfish”.
There’s a la carte and also meal courses on offer. When we were there, there were two courses on offer. One going for 4,980 yen before taxes. The other going for 6,480 yen before taxes. While we were a little puzzled by the menu, there appears to be only minor differences with the menu (the more expensive comes with “Deep Fried Blowfish” while the cheaper menu instead comes with “Blowfish under-skin”), we decided to go big (if it’s going to be our last meal after all) and ordered the 6,480 yen set.
First up, came the Blowfish Skin. If you had jellyfish before, it has a similar chewy texture. It was very refreshing due to the sauce it was served in. It was citrusy like a mix of soy sauce and some kind citrus fruit. The grated ginger (that reddish thing) was not overpowering and helped balance out any fishiness (although I didn’t feel that the dish was at all fishy in taste). I would have loved it even more if it had been a hot summer day as the dish was served chilled.
Blowfish Sashimi was up next. Surprisingly, unlike our typical experience with Japanese Sashimi, it was not served with wasabi. Instead, again you find a small portion of ginger on the side to go with your soy sauce. There was also a slice of lime, if required. This was, I think, the key point in the meal as you get to experience the actual taste of fugu. Its surprisingly neutral tasting and very “clean” tasting. It doesn’t have a taste per se unlike Salmon and/or Tuna. Or it’s just me not having grown up with fugu and not recognising a “fugu” taste. The flesh is very firm and slightly chewy. Likely from all that muscle gained from puffing away? I actually felt something while having the sashimi. My lips felt slightly numb. Was it just my brain working overtime or was it really true that a master fugu chef will just leave a slight amount of toxin on the flesh to tease diners?
Blowfish hotpot. Yep, we graduated from the raw food portion of the meal. So, what happened was the restaurant staff had laid out a sort of paper bowl in the middle of the table that is above an induction heater. The bowl had a metal piece in it that heats up the broth. The broth was very simple (essentially a piece of seaweed to give some flavour). I guess the idea was to not overwhelm the delicate taste of the blowfish. Any heavier and/or stronger tasting broth would have covered the little taste of the fugu. We were told to cook between 6-7 minutes per piece (longer for bigger pieces and shorter for smaller pieces). The flesh, when boiled, was tender. There was no fishy smell at all. For those who are used to having fish soup of some kind, you will normally assume to soup to have some kind of fishy taste/smell to it. Oddly, there was none. It really goes towards showing how neutral tasting the fish actually is. I did try drinking of the broth towards the end. It was a pleasant tasting soup with a slight sweetness from all those vegetables that came with the hotpot. But not much taste attributable to the fugu itself. HINT: Don’t drink too much of the broth. One or two spoonsful is/are good enough as the broth has one more task to perform.
Midway into our hotpot came the fried blowfish. Make a guess what did it taste like. Like fried chicken, of course. Honestly, I believe you can actually pass off fried fugu as a nice piece of fried chicken. The entire thing was crispy and tender. Absolutely delightful.
Blowfish Porridge. Well, there is no blowfish involved here. Instead, the staff will prepare the porridge at your table using the broth leftover from the hotpot. They will add in a bowl of rice to soak in all that goodness before pouring in an egg for flavour before topping it off with some spring onions and some soy sauce. It was more than plenty for the two of us. We found that the waitress was a bit light on the soy sauce and we decided to add it a bit more. The porridge evolves with time. At first, its watery before turning thick after absorbing in all that broth. I found it to be very filling and my advice is that if you think you are already about full, you might want to ask the waitress to cut back on the rice so that you won’t have too much porridge.
We ended our meal with a small dessert – a mini ice cream sandwich.
Post fugu meal – I didn’t die!!!
As time ticked by, I knew I was safe. I cheated death.
Would I recommend Fugu? Yes! Definitely. I do think most should at least try it once during their lifetime. But do remember to have it at proper establishments with proper fugu chefs. While deaths do occur, they can be attributed to amateurs who had no idea what they were actually doing.
Have you tried fugu? Let me know in the comments.
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