It was at a restaurant on the shores of the West Lake in Hangzhou, China, a hot steamy room, where a bowl of brown soup was brought before me. I could make out the shape of a fish head amidst the liquid. Being the seafood-enthusiast I am, I dipped my spoon in and tasted the soup without a second thought. It was delicious.
Only later did I realize what fish I had just eaten – pufferfish.
Those well-versed in the medium of raw seafood delicacies understand that pufferfish holds a certain stigma to it. Pufferfish, or Fugu as they call it in Japan, is the most dangerous fish to eat in the world due to the tetrodotoxin it carries in its intestines, ovaries, and liver. It is said a single fish contains enough poison to kill at least thirty people. If prepared improperly, ingestion of the even a drop of the poison can kill the consumer before he or she leaves the dinner table.
The good news: I did not die that day.
I learned from my uncle who invited me to dinner that the pufferfish in that particular restaurant were all bought from a company that raises the species in a way that the farmed fish no longer produces the poison inside them. At first, that sounded like a sweet deal to me – no poison, less danger, and the same exotic taste!
Fugu, in many parts of Japan, are raised to be poison-free with advancements in technology today. While the soup I tasted was served with cooked fish, raw Fugu is a delicacy in Japan. Some restaurants are known to specifically serve Fugu. Licensed chefs must undergo many years of training on how to prepare such a dish, and as a final test before they receive their license, they must prepare the dish and eat it themselves.
Recently, farm-raised poison-free Fugu liver is being served in many places across Japan. This has caused a disruption in the Fugu industry. Shimonoseki Fugu Association buys Fugu from Japan and China, removes the poison from the fish, and ships it throughout Japan and even out of the country. However, with the rise of farm-raised Fugu, the industry is facing greater competition.
“We won’t approve it,” Hisashi Matsumura, the president of the association said in response to the increasing rise of farmed Fugu. Although Shimonoseki Fugu Association still controls half of the Fugu traffic throughout the country, there is controversy over whether farm-raised Fugu using new technology should be allowed or not.
This battle has also raised questions about the dish. Removing poison from Fugu lowers the risk in eating it. If poison-free Fugu were true, would the dish garner the same romance and risk as before?
Raw cuisine, especially when it comes to meats and seafood, has always been known for the risk, having scared away many people because of it. Every time we see the little asterisk next to the name of a raw dish on the menu, we are reminded of the minuscule chance of food poisoning. It’s happened to me before, and for me, not having to deal with that threat would be great news. However, for others, it may be a turn off. Sometimes, Fugu in Japan is served with enough poison to leave a tingling feeling in the mouth of its consumer. For the danger of a dish to be removed, can it really be the same delicacy?
Problems that may seem simple on the outside never are. What seems like a solution – farm-raised, poison-free Fugu – has raised more controversy than we would have expected. Although personally, I think it’s a plus for raw-food enthusiasts.
Citation: Onishi, Norimitsu. “If the Fish Liver Can’t Kill, Is It Really a Delicacy?” The New York Times. N.p., 04 May 2008. Web. 13 Oct. 2016.Fugu
Bowl of pufferfish soup. Photo credit: IOst-amul3t