Wednesday, February 11, 2015

FUGU, EXTREME CUISINE- MEMORIES OF JAPAN (Part 1)



Danger. One of the reasons why I wanted to go to Japan.

Aside from riding this roller coaster...
video

I set a date with the fish of death.
Photo courtesy of animalzoo.ro
Fugu or pufferfish is the second most poisonous vertebrate in the world after the golden poison frog. Its skin and liver contain tetrodotoxin, a biological neurotoxin that's 100 times more poisonous than cyanide and causes the paralysis of voluntary muscles, a loss of sensation and a fatal heart rate increase.  A miniscule half milligram drop will make you stop breathing as your heart races to 100 beats per minute while you lose all your sensation. You will be zombified to a state of near-death, remaining conscious but paralysed until you say, "sayonara world!"

On the upside, it has high collagen and low calorie content, the perfect beauty food. And it has only killed 23 people  from 2000 to 2009.  That's a good number compared to the 24,000 who die from lightning strikes every year. 

Since I was going to risk my life for food, I did some online research and learned that only licensed artisan cooks can prepare the fish for public consumption. I found a restaurant based on blogs. After all, I'd like to eat at a restaurant where people actually survived from eating the deadly fish.

A. marched with me through the streets of the famous Dotonbori dining district of Osaka to find Gempin Fugu even if he disliked the possibility of losing me to a fish. It took us quite sometime (and a few "Lost in Translation" moments) to find the restaurant that was located at the basement of Comfort Hotel.
The place had several low tables over a recessed floor and paired with zabuton cushions. The food attendants would even help you remove your shoes. Like most restaurants we had been to, it was dimly lit and had smoking areas.
Luckily, the menu had English translation  and listed other ala carte items, mostly seafood, including the kani salad that A. ordered. It was the only thing he was familiar with. While he will only eat what he's tried before, I have sworn to eat the unfamiliar.
I ordered grilled snowcrabs. Which turned out to be disappointing. Three crab legs did not make a (possibly final) supper.
To calm my nerves, I ordered some liquid courage in the form of warm sake. A., who wanted to stay calm, just in case, had Sapporo beer.
Fugu is served diffent ways. It can be grilled, smoked or parboiled. The most famous way to serve it is as sashimi  also known as Tessa or Fugu sashi. The thinly sliced raw fish is served with a side of grated daikon (white radish) and gari (pickled ginger) then dipped in ponzu shōyu, a tart citrus-based soy sauce with a hint of freshly grated wasabi (a pungent green spicy root crop).
The time had come to face the fish of death. Served like a work of art, its pale white meat, fanned out and at its base was a colorful mix of grated vegetables and a slice of lime sitting on top of an  ooba, a big perilla leaf.
I took my first bite. No dipping sauce. It was bland. Nothing compared to tuna or salmon sashimi, more like raw squid or octopus. I wondered if I had ingested some poison and just lost my sense of taste. Not one to panic, I took a gulp of sake. I could taste the bone-dry alcohol. I had not yet lost my sense of taste. So I took another bite. It was still bland. A., who had been quietly watching me, could sense my disappointment. He urged me to dip the sliver of fish meat in the ponzu shōyu. The fugu just took on the taste of the sauce. Since I was still still alive, I coaxed A. to try some. He did.
After a few slices, I felt a bit of numbness on my lips, like getting some anesthetic cream at the dentist. I had read that this is something one should expect when one eats fugu because there will always be a small, non-lethal amount of the poison on the fish. But maybe it was just the sake.
This picture is proof that I finished the fish of death. 
 Post script: After reading this article. A. admitted the reason why he ate the Fugu Sashi- if I were to show signs of poisoning later on in the night, he would also be poisoned. We would die together in Japan. Isn't that sweet?

Address: Gempin Fugu (other articles may refer to it as Genpin Fugu)
Comfort Inn, Osakashinsaibashi B1F, 1-15-15, Higashishinsaibashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, OsakaTelephone:  06-6245-5429
 

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