From: Peter Rivard
Date: Fri Jan 24, 2003 10:58:29 PM Japan
To: Newsletter
Subject: Fugu


Hi, friends,

       I seem to have cheated death twice in the same day.
       At work, at Go-chu, I was offered some wild boar stew; I politely demurred, remembering that last year boar stew prepared by the seventh graders was offered to me after it had already made several people sick (someone's father had donated the meat to the school after killing the previous owner); when I found out it had been prepared by our groundskeeper, renowned for her "rural" cuisine, after her husband had shot it, I decided to try it, and it was better than last year's (everyone told me, "You have to try it this time--it's not smelly"). No ill effects.
       After work, I went to an enkai (eating and drinking party) with the English teachers; the primary attraction was my former boss, Ms. Yamada, who retired last year, but a secondary one was certainly my first chance to try fugu, the legendary poisonous puffer fish--the poisonous puffer fish with the poison removed, one always hopes. Fukui is reputed to be prime fugu-eating territory, and I'd wanted to try it since I got here, but I never knew where or when to go. I started eating about three and a half hours ago, and so far, convulsions, paralysis, and death have yet to set in, so I seem to have survived. And the verdict? It tastes like, well... fish. Since the damn thing costs so much and is generally a special order, you get the whole fish, in several courses and preparations. Sashimi, raw in a vinegar sauce, tempura, stew, in a vegetable salad, and in a stew with rice (the leftovers of the previous stew with rice dumped in, really). It has a definite, quite interesting taste, but it's quite subtle and generally absorbs the flavors of whatever you eat it with. The texture, when cooked, is of a normal but bony white fish, not as dry as halibut but not as bouncy as, say, monkfish or ray. Raw, it is a whitish, translucent flesh with a slight crispness--I can only compare it to hamo, which is, I believe, a type of eel (though a few Japanese friends of mine seem to believe that it's actually sea snake). In other words, it's quite good, but not something I'll go out of my way to find again, given the prevailing prices. I would say, though, that it's worth doing once, I'm glad I tried it, and if you get the chance, you should, too. Really, 75-100 dead a year in a population of 130 million (though perhaps the average person eats it once every ten or twenty years, so perhaps we're looking at 100 dead out of 8 or 10 million annual fugu eaters) is not much of a risk; I'd be curious to know the American fatality rate from trout, where the danger is choking rather than paralytic suffocation. An even better reason is that eating fugu makes you feel pretty special; in eating fugu, you are doing something forbidden to your betters: the emperor and his family are forbidden from tasting the fabled dish.
       If I've whetted your appetite, you might want to look for fugu in the US; as of a few years ago, there were exactly two chefs licensed by their local boards of health to serve fugu in America--I believe one was in New York, the other in LA. And make sure you get a decent sake to go with it; the cheap stuff served hot in American Japanese restaurants isn't fit for an Akita; if you try the good stuff, you just might like it, too.

Be well,

Peter

For more info, see http://bahama.jgi-psf.org/fugu/html/historic.html

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