The primary time I heard about fugu was on an episode of The Simpsons. Homer visits a brand new sushi restaurant and he calls for to eat fugu (in addition to every little thing else on the menu). The sushi grasp was “busy” with Bart’s instructor at the back of his automotive, leaving his apprentice to arrange the toxic fish as a substitute. He prepares it badly, Homer eats it…and is advised he solely has 22 hours to dwell. (Spoiler: he survives and so do I.)

I’m within the Abeno-ku neighbourhood in Osaka, at a 24-seat reservation-only fugu restaurant run by second era chef and restaurant proprietor Noboru Yamaguchi. And I’m about to comply with in Homer’s footsteps and eat Osakan delicacy fugu, also called pufferfish or blowfish.

Yamaguchi doesn’t need any publicity for his tiny fugu-only restaurant: he doesn’t want it. It’s solely identified via phrase of mouth from different fugu fans (like a fugu foodie inside circle), however for one night time I’ve been let in.

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Barramundi in tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

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Barramundi in tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

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A trout and sturgeon farm on the Yenisei River within the Siberian village of Primorsk in 2017

Reuters

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A sturgeon farm within the Polish village of Rus in 2014

AFP/Getty

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Barramundi in tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

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A fish farm outdoors the Siberian city of Nazarovo in 2019

Reuters

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A fish farm close to Haifa, Israel in 2018

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

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Barramundi in tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

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A salmon farm on Lake Tagua Tagua in southern Chile in 2016

AFP/Getty

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Barramundi in tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

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Barramundi in tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

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A fish farm close to Haifa, Israel in 2018

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

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Tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

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A fish farm on Lake Victoria in Kisumu, Kenya in 2018

AFP/Getty

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Barramundi in tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

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Barramundi in tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

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Barramundi in tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

3/15

A trout and sturgeon farm on the Yenisei River within the Siberian village of Primorsk in 2017

Reuters

4/15

A sturgeon farm within the Polish village of Rus in 2014

AFP/Getty

5/15

Barramundi in tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

6/15

A fish farm outdoors the Siberian city of Nazarovo in 2019

Reuters

7/15

A fish farm close to Haifa, Israel in 2018

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

8/15

Barramundi in tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

9/15

A salmon farm on Lake Tagua Tagua in southern Chile in 2016

AFP/Getty

10/15

Barramundi in tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

11/15

Barramundi in tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

12/15

A fish farm close to Haifa, Israel in 2018

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

13/15

Tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

14/15

A fish farm on Lake Victoria in Kisumu, Kenya in 2018

AFP/Getty

15/15

Barramundi in tanks at a fish farm in South Australia, 2017

Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

“Fugu is 1,200 occasions extra deadly than cyanide and a single fish has sufficient poison to kill 30 individuals,” says my interpreter Kuniko Morioka as we sit down, whereas exhibiting me a cute however lethal cartoon diagram on her cellphone. It accommodates deadly quantities of a chemical referred to as tetrodotoxin, discovered within the fish’s ovaries, eyes, pores and skin, blood and liver, which is essentially the most scrumptious half – but additionally essentially the most toxic.

“Inside 20 minutes of consuming it, fugu could cause signs similar to nausea, numbing, dizziness and abdomen aches, adopted by respiratory issues, muscle paralysis and cardiac arrest. There isn’t a identified antidote.”

If that’s not (dis)consolation consuming, I don’t know what’s.

Fugu is an Osakan delicacy (Angela Hui)

Every pufferfish has its personal rating, grade and high quality. There are greater than 120 styles of fugu, of which round 50 are present in Japan, and of these solely 22 are edible. Torafugu (Tiger fugu) is taken into account the most well-liked and tastiest, but it surely’s additionally costly. Japanese thrillseekers pays something from 5,000 yen (£34) to 35,000 yen (£240) every for an adventurous eating expertise, which usually consists of a multi-course tasting menu that contains sashimi, a chirinabe hotpot, fugu ribs karaage (deep fried pufferfish), rice porridge and shirako (sperm sac) full with fugu sake. As a result of it’s so harmful, eating on fugu is normally a standing image to point out off to associates that you simply’ve eaten one thing lethal and costly.

The toxic components of the fugu must be sliced off earlier than serving (Angela Hui)

“The fins are dried for six months, then frivolously grilled and I set the fin alight simply earlier than serving with scorching sake. The flame provides a smoky and sophisticated aspect to the drink,” says Yamaguchi. “The sake is a conventional commemorative drink and a good way to toast to a particular meal forward and have a good time the entire fish.”

Yamaguchi has been cooking with fugu for over 20 years and inherited the restaurant in his early twenties. His late grandmother opened the restaurant in 1949 and was the primary lady in Japan to carry a fugu licence. Most cooks must do a minimum of two years of rigorous coaching adopted by an apprenticeship after which a notoriously difficult-to-pass take a look at earlier than having the ability to qualify for a licence. Plus, every prefecture has its personal set of strict authorities legal guidelines on the dealing with and preparation of fugu.

Contained in the fugu-only restaurant in Osaka (Angela Hui)

“I shadowed my grandmother for a few years,” he says. “Studying find out how to put together fugu is a bit like studying find out how to drive. You slowly get higher with apply, it’s a ability you by no means actually overlook.”

Unintentional deaths are not often attributable to specifically licensed cooks; they’re normally linked to home preparation the place untrained individuals attempt to DIY their very own fugu.

I’m greeted with the primary course of the tasting menu: a plate of paper-thin wild Torafugu sashimi and a bowl of curled-up layers of fish pores and skin with seaweed and spring onions. On the aspect is Yamaguchi’s grandmother’s secret ponzu sauce and spicy grated radish for dipping.

Fancy a fugu hotpot? (Angela Hui)

“Fugu must be soaked in water for a minimum of an hour to rinse off any extra blood, as that may nonetheless comprise traces of poison,” Yamaguchi says of the preparation. “It’s then filleted into skinny slices and left to refrigerate for eight hours. This ageing course of permits the fish to deepen in color, improve flavours and soften in texture. It’ll be too chewy and difficult as soon as it’s freshly minimize.”

True to type, the fugu is recent, mild and delicate, and I by some means handle to eat each little sliver inside seconds.

The following course of kombu dashi broth with tofu, shimeji mushroom, seaweed and but extra fugu bubbles away within the pot in entrance of me. It’s adopted by what I assumed was a small dish of toasted marshmallow, however seems to be the shirako (semen sac), which tastes so much like a creamy miso pudding. It’s my favorite a part of the meal, even understanding precisely what it’s I’m consuming.

Fugu is historically served as a part of a multi-course tasting menu (Angela Hui)

“Shirako is supposed to bless ladies with good pores and skin and males with energy after consuming,” Yamaguchi tells me. ”They’re very uncommon and are solely discovered two months of the 12 months throughout mating season. The 2 sperm sacs price roughly 10,000 yen (£70).”

The primary course is fugu nabe, a comforting rice porridge that makes use of the leftover broth and is combined with an egg. Because the dish cooks for longer, it takes on richer flavours from the fish and finishes with an intense umami excessive.

On the finish of the meal, Yamaguchi presents me with a parting reward: a fantastic field of Manju, a Japanese dessert produced from flour, rice powder, arrowroot and buckwheat usually full of pink bean paste. Every one is individually stamped with a fugu brand on high. It’s a prized candy deal with to take dwelling as a memento, or in my case it’s proof that I’ve lived to inform the story. A bit like Homer.

Journey necessities

Getting there

British Airways flies from London Heathrow to Osaka from £508 return.

Staying there

Normal rooms on the Imperial Lodge Osaka from £160.