Thursday, December 11, 2008

Living on the edge with Fugu

After a day spent at the Tokyo Institute of Technology my hosts took me out for dinner at a local favorite of theirs. This being the start of winter , Fugu is the specialty of the season. Last night's meal was all about this dangerous fish. If you don't know, Fugu is the Japanese name for the pufferfish. This fish contains a very deadly toxin in its organs and sometimes in its skin called tetrodotoxin. This is a neurotoxin that can paralyze your muscles. If your diaphram becomes paralyzed you will suffocate - all while being fully conscious. Fugu is highly prized in Japan due to its inherint danger. Chefs must have special training to cut the fish to avoid contaminating the edible parts.

It seems every meal in Japan starts with beer but quickly moves to sake. This 1.8 liter bottle was barely enough for us! Now I do like sake and I am always surprised at how many different sakes there are all with their unique flavors.

Japanese meals often start with a sashimi course. Last night I was treated to my favorite - raw crab! If you've never tried it, you must. It is absolutely the sweetest sashimi I have ever tasted.

Next we each had a tray full of various appetizers I don't know what everything was but it was all very tasty. I know we had some snails, some mushrooms, the thing on the bottom right was a most delicious oyster, and on the bottom left - lotus root.

Now comes the Fugu! First up was a fugu tempura - lightly battered and crisp on the outside, delicious and soft on the inside. It tasted like fish, of course, so I don't know if the taste is really anything special.

The main meal was a hot pot cooked at the table. Here it is before everything was cooked. Inside there are pieces of fugu, vegetables, tofu, mushrooms and cellophane noodles. The pieces of the fugu are carefully cut so as to enjoy the most tender cartilage near the bones. I have to say the fish cooked this was was absolutely delectable.

Even the fins of the fish are used in a special sake drink called Fugu Hire-zake. They slightly char the fin and place it on top of the sake in the cup. When it is served at the table the ignite the cup with a flame briefly to impart a very interesting smell and taste to the sake. This sake was served warm and tasted very interesting with the charred fin flavor infusing the sake.

Japanese meals usually end with a rice course and a soup. The rice tonight was served in the form of a crab maki roll. I'm not quite sure but I think the curled round pieces in the soup was the skin of the fugu. This night we ended with pineapple and sort of a coconut jello pudding.

So, I enjoyed the fugu very much and I lived to tell the tale! Next time I must try fugu sashimi.

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