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Fugu, or blowfish, a Japanese delicacy, is so poisonous that the smallest mistake in its preparation could be fatal.

However, Tokyo’s city government is planning to ease restrictions that allow only highly trained and licensed chefs to serve the dish.

Kunio Miura always uses his special knives to prepare fugu – wooden-handled with blades tempered by a swordsmith to a keen edge. Before he starts work in his kitchen they are brought to him by an assistant, carefully stored in a special box.

Miura-san, as he is respectfully known, has been cutting up blowfish for 60 years but still approaches the task with caution. A single mistake could mean death for a customer.

Fugu is an expensive delicacy in Japan and the restaurants that serve it are among the finest in the country. In Miura-san’s establishment a meal starts at $120 a head, but people are willing to pay for the assurance of the fugu chef license mounted on his wall, yellowed now with age. He is one of a select guild authorized by Tokyo’s city government to serve the dish.

When he begins work the process is swift, and mercifully out of sight of the surviving fugu swimming in their tank by the restaurant door.

First he lays the dispatched fish, rather square of body with stubby fins, on its stomach and cuts open the head to removes its brain and eyes.

They are carefully placed in a metal tray marked “non-edible”. Then he removes the skin, greenish and mottled on the top and sides, white underneath, and starts cutting at the guts.

“This is the most poisonous part,” he says pulling out the ovaries.

But the liver and intestines are potentially lethal too. “People say it is 200 times more deadly than cyanide.”

Fugu, or blowfish, a Japanese delicacy, is so poisonous that the smallest mistake in its preparation could be fatal

Fugu, or blowfish, a Japanese delicacy, is so poisonous that the smallest mistake in its preparation could be fatal

Twenty-three people have died in Japan after eating fugu since 2000, according to government figures. Most of the victims are anglers who rashly try to prepare their catch at home. A spokesman for the Health and Welfare Ministry struggles to think of a single fatality in a restaurant, though last year a woman was hospitalized after eating a trace of fugu liver in one of Tokyo’s top restaurants – not Miura-san’s.

Tetrodotoxin poisoning has been described as “rapid and violent”, first a numbness around the mouth, then paralysis, finally death. The unfortunate diner remains conscious to the end. There is no antidote.

“This would be enough to kill you,” Miura-san says, slicing off a tiny sliver of fugu ovary and holding it up. Then he carefully checks the poisonous organs on the tray, making sure he has accounted for every one, and tips them into a metal drum locked with a padlock. They will be taken to Tokyo’s main fish-market and burned, along with the offcuts from other fugu restaurants.

Miura-san’s skill is therefore highly prized. Fugu chefs consider themselves the elite of Japan’s highly competitive culinary world. He started as an apprentice in a kitchen at the age of 15. Training lasts at least two years but he was not allowed to take the practical test to get a license until he was 20, the age people become a legal adult in Japan. A third of examinees fail.

So proposals by Tokyo’s city government to relax the rules have been met with an outcry from qualified chefs. Coming into effect in October they would allow restaurants to serve portions of fugu that they have bought ready-prepared off-site.

“We worked hard to get the license and had to pass the most difficult exam in Tokyo,” says Miura-san.

“Under the new rules people will be able to sell fugu after just going to a class and listening for a day. We spent lots of time and money. To get this skill you have to practice by cutting more than a hundred fish and that costs hundreds of thousands of yen.”

The authorities in Tokyo impose stricter regulations than any other Japanese city. In some, restaurants have already been able to sell pre-prepared fugu for a long time. And even in Tokyo these days, it is available over the internet and in some supermarkets – one reason why officials think the rules need updating.

In terms of cost, it is likely fugu would become available in cheaper restaurants and pubs (izakayas). But going to a proper fugu restaurant to eat good wild-caught fish, prepared on-site, is quite a luxury – because of the cost, if nothing else – and also quite an event. For many, playing the equivalent of Russian roulette at the dinner table is the attraction of the dish.

Some report a strange tingling of the lips from traces of the poison, although Miura-san thinks that is unlikely. He also scoffs at the myth that a chef would be honor-bound to commit ritual suicide with his fish knife if he killed a customer. Loss of his license, a fine, litigation or perhaps prison would be the penalty.

Miura-san serves fugu stew, and grilled fugu with teriyaki sauce, but today it is fugu-sashimi on the menu. He carefully slices the fish so thinly that when it is arranged like the petals of a chrysanthemum flower on a large dish the pattern beneath shows through.

Raw fugu is rather chewy and tastes mostly of the accompanying soy sauce dip. It is briefly poached in a broth set on a table-top burner – a dish known as shabu-shabu in Japan. The old journalistic cliché when eating unusual foods really does hold true – it tastes rather like chicken.

Fugu lovers, though, would say it has a distinctive taste, and, even more importantly, texture. Japanese has many words to describe texture because it is a very important aspect of the cuisine.

Another part of the fish’s appeal is that is a seasonal dish, eaten in winter, and Japanese diners attach a particular value to this. In the same way unagi, eel, is an important summer dish. But whatever you think of eel, it’s not quite fugu – it lacks that extra thrill that comes with the knowledge that by eating it you are dicing with death.



If you are an adrenalin lover, you will go for almost any challenge, but would you accept to try deadly delicacies?


It is not about fast-food or so called junk food. We all know about it, but most of us just live on the edge every day eating it. [googlead tip=”vertical_mare” aliniat=”dreapta”]
Wherever there are some exotic, original and dangerous delicacies, there are people willing to taste them. The reason is quite obvious:  simply because they exist it’s worth to try them.

You are what you eat, they say. If I eat a fish I’ll become one? Definetly not, but there is some chance to become… dead instantly.
Fugu or puffer-fish is an expensive sashimi dish. This deadly delicacy is popular in Japan, but prohibited in Europe. There are a few restaurants in US and in Korea where this “Russian roulette of sushi” is served. The internal organs of this fish contain tetrodotoxin, therefore it has to be prepared carefully, or else… it is possible to end up paralyzed and expired in a very short time.

Despite its notoriety, fugu is not the only life-threatening dish, neither the most dangerous, nor the most commonly served deadly delicacy.  Stonefish produce venom, but when it’s cooked, it loses its potency. If it’s served raw (sashimi dish Okoze) its venomous dorsal fins are eliminated. Fugu and silverstripe blaasop do not secrete venom, but they are toxic because of bacteria in their diets. Their internal organ have to be removed carefully prior serving.

Deadly Delicacies

Deadly Delicacies: Size comparison of a Echizen kurage next to a diver Source: Wikipedia

Echizen kurage is an enormous, poisonous jellyfish that lives in swarms in the Japan waters. Like fugu or silverstripe blaasop the toxic parts have to be attentively eliminated and the jellyfish has to be properly cooked for safe consumption, as one of the (potentially) deadly delicacies, of course.

Blood clams are native to waters around the world and are cultivated in Southeast Asia.
The redness that gives these cockles their name is due to a high level of hemocyanins.
Blood clams, considered one of the most tasteful Chinese delicacies, are flavored with a fermented tofu (fulu) sauce. If it’s not boiled enough, there are some risks that hepatitis A, E, viruses,  typhoid, and dysentery bacilli could remain present.

The giant bullfrog, that grows to the size of a cat and contains enough poison to be lethal, is a delicacy in Namibia. The Namibians eat the entire giant bullfrog except for the internal organs. If it is eaten prematurely (“before the third rain”) can cause urethritis or acute renal failure. Locally this frog-induced disease is known as Oshiketakata.

San nak ji (raw baby octopus) is served in Korea. The octopus is dismembered, sesame oil is added, and immediately the tentacles are brought to the table. Lots of the tentacles will still be moving around. They could deploy venom if you try to swallow them.[googlead tip=”patrat_mediu” aliniat=”dreapta”]

You don’t have to look only to animals in order to find deadly delicacies. There are a lot of plants that are potentially lethal.

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Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica. This fruit look like a bulb and has the appearence and taste of scrambled eggs when cooked. It’s often eaten as breakfast. The time has to be right for that meal. Ackee can cause extreme nausea if consumed when it’s not ripe enough. It contains hypoglycine. The effects are critical: quickly lowering one’s blood sugar and ensuring violent illness or death. The condition caused by inadequate use is called “Jamaican vomiting sickness” and can bring even death to children.

Like ackee, eating cassava is a dietary habbit in the tropics. In Africa and South America cassava is used to bake breads, ground into pastes and fried into cakes. The root contains enough cyanide to kill. If is not washed and prepared properly, it can have bad consequences.