Fugu: The Fearsome Fish

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Most of you have probably heard of fugu, or blowfish, a Japanese delicacy famed for its deadly potential. Parts of the blowfish are poisonous, and if prepared incorrectly, it’s possible to die after consuming it. (As Homer feared he would in a particularly classic episode of The Simpsons.) Consequently, restaurants have to be certified in order to be able to serve fugu, and chefs are required to undergo special training to learn how to deal with the fish.

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Anyway, I’d been curious about fugu for a long time, but I’d never had the chance to actually try it until my trip to Kyushu last month. It tends to be rather expensive and is often served as a full course of different fugu-related dishes, so I just never had the motivation/opportunity to make an event of it.

But when we were passing through Beppu last month, our guidebook informed us that fugu is a specialty of the area and that the best months to eat it are generally in the winter—particularly January. How could we ignore such a sign from the Fates?

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So, we made our way to Fugu Matsu, a lovely traditional restaurant just a short walk from Beppu Station. It was already late in the evening, so we didn’t get the full course meal. Instead, we decided to try the fugu sashimi (raw fugu served in thin slices, as pictured above) and the toasted fugu-fin sake (pictured below). People say that fugu is rather tasteless, but I actually disagree—I thought that the sashimi had a very delicate but distinct flavor. Instead of being overtly fishy, it was quite subtle. I thought it was quite nice, actually. They also say that you can sometimes feel your mouth tingling as a result of slight traces of poison, but we didn’t experience any of that. Instead, it was just a nice sashimi experience.

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I thought the toasted fin sake (hire-zake) was very tasty as well. I think they toast the fin first, then heat the sake with the fin inside. The toasted fin imparts a very savory, smoky flavor to the sake—you taste the toastiness much more than the fishiness, if that makes sense. It made a nice addition to our little sashimi snack.

So, if you’re at all curious about fugu, I’d recommend taking the plunge and giving it a try.  One day, I hope to do one of the full course meals with fugu prepared several different ways. But if you don’t want to spend that much money, I think the sashimi is a nice way to go. It’s a very common style of fugu preparation, and I think it’s probably the most “pure” one, since the flavor of the fugu is unadulterated by other ingredients—or even by cooking.

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There are many fugu restaurants around Japan—you may see tanks like the one above as you walk down the street. (My old neighborhood in Chiba had a surprising number of fugu restaurants, for some reason.) I hear that you can find good/cheap prices if you look around, but I would recommend going with a well-known/well-reviewed restaurant if you’re at all nervous about the risk. And hey, it’s probably a one-time experience, so why not make the most of it, right?

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