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Fugu fish sliced as sashimi
Fugu sashimi

Fugu, known as pufferfish or blowfish in English, is the notorious deadly fish eaten in Japan as a specially prepared delicacy.

The takifugu fish itself is quite a cute looking creature with the distinctive round pufferfish shape.  But, if you happened to hook one on a fishing trip, I would think twice before sticking it on the grill or slicing it for sashimi!

Why would you eat a fish that could make you very ill or even kill you?

Although the flesh is good to eat, certain organs of the fugu fish contain a deadly poison called tetrodotoxin which is said to be 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide with no known antidote.

However, when it’s in season from October to March, many people in Japan enjoy eating this expensive national delicacy.  As well as having a delicious subtle flavour, they say that traces of toxin in the flesh leave a tingling, numb feeling in the mouth.  Fugu is versatile and can be eaten raw as fine, almost transparent sashimi, cooked in nabe or shabu-shabu hot pot dishes, fried or grilled (and, no, cooking does not kill the poison).


Of course, this means that the fish must be prepared in a very special way to make it edible.  In Japan, chefs who prepare fugu for eating must be highly skilled and hold a special government-issued license to prove that they understand how to remove the poisonous parts and keep only the delicious edible flesh for serving.

In fact, the parts that are removed must be properly stored and disposed of as they are classed as hazardous waste.

These days, many restaurants that serve fugu as a speciality buy in whole fish already prepared under license with all the dangerous parts removed.  This reduces the risk of eating fugu in a restaurant and most of the deaths, rare now as they are, from eating fugu are due to individuals who caught one and tried to prepare it themselves.

You have to wonder if part of the delight in eating fugu for the Japanese is knowing the dangerous risks surrounding it!  I have never eaten it and I don’t think I am brave enough to try.  I would definitely want to see that certificate before getting my chopsticks out!

Fugu puffer fish lantern

Japanese people have been eating fugu for thousands of years and despite its deadly reputation, this little fish is a celebrated part of Japanese culture.  You can see fond imagery all around as well as in souvenirs, manga, short stories and historical prints and artworks.

If you’re not so interesting in eating it, the pufferfish has a cute look with dark mottled grey on top and a lighter underbelly.  

Similar to other poisonous creature, the fish itself doesn't make the poison its own body but the chemical accumulates from bacteria in the food it eats.

Being so poisonous, it can pretty much bob around as it pleases close to the sea bed but, should a predator be foolish enough to come near, the fish can puff itself up into a round, almost spherical shape, making itself look much larger and more threatening.  As if that wasn't defensive enough, the takifugu has hard sharp teeth, mainly for tackling its diet of molluscs and starfish, which can give a nasty bite if you're not careful when handling a live one.

Pufferfish photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash


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