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Fugu: A (Sometimes) Deadly Delicacy

December 1, 2009

After 11 people were poisoned by pufferfish in Toyama last week, I thought I would take some time to talk about the full fugu (河豚 – blowfish, pufferfish) dinner in Japan.

My host mother just recently returned from such a meal, thankfully unharmed. What can you expect at such a pricey dinner? The full fugu experience can cost upwards of $200, so here is a guide to make sure you know what you’re getting into.

Tessa (てっさ): Fugu sashimi
Raw fugu sashimi (刺身) is a delicacy, and is displayed like a work of art. The meat is sliced so thin that you can see the plate underneath.
Karaage (空揚げ): Fried
Karaage is a term for all manner of fried foods, but here we have fried fugu. The taste of fugu has been compared to frog’s legs, so frying doesn’t seem like a bad match!
Yaki-fugu (焼き河豚): Grilled fugu
Nothing like fugu over an open flame. As long as it isn’t full of deadly neurotoxin.
Nabe (なべ): Stew or hotpot
As covered in my nabemono post, many different kinds of foods can be served in a hotpot, and fugu is no exception. This is the dish that did people in last week, by the way. At the end when there is only broth left, you can add cooked rice (gohan – ご飯) and egg (tamago – 卵) to make a kind of fugu risotto. Tasty!
Hire (ひれ): Fin
In one of the more bizarre ways to eat fugu, you can make a flavored sake known as hire-zake (ひれ酒) with the grilled fin of a fugu. It is all served hot, and after drinking the sake, eating the fin is optional.
Shirako (白子): Fish sperm
And here we have the only kind of fugu that I have personally sampled. Shirako (literally, “white children”) is the soft roe or milt of various fish, though pictured here is that of fugu. I’ve also seen it translated as “sperm sack.” Charming. The taste was actually not terrible, though I had no idea what I was eating at the time. I can still hear my host father trying to explain to me what it was in English while dining at a very fancy restaurant. His cries of “It’s SPERM!” echoed off the walls. Slightly embarassing.
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