F IS FOR FUGU
Categories: A to Z of Japan
We cover the best bits of Japanese culture one letter at a time in our A to Z of Japan, and this week the letter is ‘F’. It was a toss-up between fugu, and Mount Fuji, but over at Kigu we have a soft spot for unusual creatures so fugu won out in the end.
‘Fugu’ is the Japanese word for pufferfish, which is a popular meat in Japan; notorious because if prepared incorrectly it’s 200 times more poisonous than cyanide. Learning to prepare fugu takes at least 3 years and there’s quite strict legislation in Japan governing the process.
Pufferfish are pretty awesome creatures. When they get scared, they blow up to double their size and their spines stick out. There is poison in the spines and sometimes other parts of their body such as the liver too, and they’re thought to be the second most poisonous vertebrates in the world. They are a little like chameleons and can change their patterns in response to their surroundings. But not scaredy cats in the least, they make no attempt to hide from predators.
Pufferfish is relatively pricy, and chefs actually need a license to be able to prepare it legally – more than a third of people that take this test fail it. Tetrodotoxin is the poison responsible for all this palaver, and it causes numbness around the mouth; this is swiftly followed by paralysis and then death. There’s no antidote and you are awake through the whole ghastly process.
Fugu is seasonal and tends to be eaten in winter; it has a distinctive taste and texture and can be served in a variety of dishes from raw to being cooked up in a stew. Not all types of pufferfish are poisonous and Japanese fish farmers have even started developing ways to grow non-poisonous breeds. But part of the appeal is of course the risk, and there’s even an urban legend that a chef is bound to kill themselves using the guilty knife if a customer dies.
If you enjoyed this A to Z of Japan then you can see letters A to E on our blog homepage here