7 Courses of Deadly Fugu Fish Later… I’m Still Alive in Japan

7 Courses of Deadly Fugu Fish Later… I’m Still Alive in Japan

More poisonous than cyanide, the Japanese delicacy fugu can be lethal if not prepared correctly. I enjoyed fugu in Osaka and I lived to tell the tale.

The Japanese have been eating the notorious fugu for a very long time. Containing poison, the fish is lethal if not prepared carefully.

In Japan, chefs are required to be trained for at least 3 years before they can professionally handle fugu in restaurants. Among the things I’ve heard about fugu consumption in the country, one says that chefs are obliged to taste the fugu before they can serve it to their customers. So, you know, if a chef suddenly collapses, that plate of fugu should definitely not appear in front of the customer! Whether this is true or just a groundless rumour, I don’t know. In any case, Japan being Japan, I have confidence in her fugu chefs!

As one of the novelty items on top of my list of things-I-must-do-before-I-leave-Japan-for-good, I tried fugu in Osaka. Fugu can be found in all big cities in Japan, but Osaka is said to be the place to try this delicacy because of its popularity and constant availability. In this post, I’ll briefly introduce to you the fugu dishes that came with our 7-course meal!

Also read: Satisfy the Gastronomic Foodie In You: 10 Culinary Experiences You Must Try at Least Once

1. Fugu skin appetiser (yubiki)

Course appetisers in fugu restaurants usually come in the form of fugu skin that is sliced to thin, long pieces. Ours came mixed in vinegar and, I’m guessing, some soy sauce, as well as scallions and grated radish. The fugu skin was unexpectedly chewy, which unfortunately did not appeal to my taste buds.

2. Fugu sashimi (fugu-sashi or tessa)

The next dishes were fugu sashimi in two different kinds of cut: thick and thin.

In the aspects of both look and taste, fugu sashimi resembles squid/ika sashimi. Both are translucent when thinly sliced and chewy when eaten. In my opinion, despite the chewiness, fugu sashimi tastes much better. Ika leaves a rubbery aftertaste that I really dislike.

The thick cut sashimi, on the other hand, looks slightly pinkish. Ours was served with a piece of cabbage beneath it and topped with scallions. You can squeeze some the lime on it too, which I think adds a nice tang to the otherwise plain sashimi. 

I personally prefer the thinly sliced ones because the thick ones were way too chewy for my liking. Sashimi would probably be the best way to taste the true flavours of a fish since it is raw and clean of other flavours, but I find fugu sashimi rather bland. I guess people mostly eat it for the texture and novelty?

3. Fried fugu (fugu kara-age)

I found this dish the best among all – after all, nothing can go wrong with fried food! I initially assumed that being fried, the fugu would taste just like any other fish, but I was wrong. The original chewy texture of the fugu was not completely gone, but in a good way. The texture was in between that of chicken and fish, perhaps somewhat like frog. The savoury batter that was used to coat the fish had a very fine umami taste which I really enjoyed.

4. A selection of side dishes with fugu sushi

fugu fish

Among all the other fugu dishes, this was probably the “safest”. There was a slice of fugu sushi which went well with the fragrant sakuraba (Oshima-cherry leaf) that was used to wrap it up. There was also a bowl of Japanese salad, and I found the boiled vegetables with mango sauce a refreshing break from the fish. Other little bites included edamame, konyaku bar with gold leaf, fishcake and rolled fish with egg (tasted similar to fish ball).

5. Fugu hotpot (chirinabe)

fugu fish

The moment the plate of raw fugu came, I squealed a little inside. The raw fugu did not look very appetising but it had finally arrived! The fugu hotpot that Osakans rave about! On the plate was a selection of fugu skin, fugu meat, fugu bones, as well as tofu, shiitake mushrooms and cabbages. We were also served a bowl of ponzu sauce with grated radish and scallions each as dips.

A few flower petals were added into the soup base to make it more fragrant. Once the soup has boiled, the bones go in first, then the vegetables. The fish skin and fish meat go in last.

Sorry for the blurry photos; the venom was kicking in.

Just kidding!

The boiled fish was really good; it tasted exactly like the frog leg in frog leg porridge common in Singapore and Malaysia. It was the right blend of softness and chewiness. The fugu skin was also surprisingly yummy. It melted nicely in my mouth. The key to great fugu meat is 3 minutes of boiling, if I remember it correctly, and for the skin it’s just 10 seconds!

6. Fugu rice porridge with egg

The second last thing on our course (before the un-photographed ice-cream dessert) was fugu porridge. The staff simply removed whatever that was left in the pot we used to cook chirinabe, poured in cooked rice and stirred in three beaten eggs. Lastly, she added a generous amount of scallion on the porridge before scooping us a bowl each. I sprinkled some of the seaweed shreds and pickles they prepared and the porridge turned out really tasty! Too bad I was too full by then, or else I’d have had another serving. *burp*

7. Fugu sake (hire-zake)

Dried and baked fugu fins are apparently commonly used in hot sake! Visually, it was extremely exciting.

fugu fish

When I took the first sip, the blend of sweetness and bitterness of the sake immediately struck my palate, and then came the fishiness of the fugu. After it cooled down, the sake kind of tasted like a fish soup medicine, if there’s such a thing. I’m inclined to describe it as tasting like a savoury fish soup, but with some bitter herbal medicine added.

Also read: What to Eat in Japan: 23 Must-Try Foods Other Than Sushi

Where to try puffer fish in Japan?

Before you get all excited and start planning for your gastronomic trip to Japan, I’d like to kindly remind you that fugu fish look like this before being skinned.

Image credits: Wikipedia Commons

There are many kinds of fugu, but torafugu, which was what I tried, is claimed to be the best. The restaurant that I visited was called Genpin Fugu/玄品ふぐ and it serves only torafugu. It is a chain store and can be found all over Japan. Another suggestion for a similar fugu dining experience which is slightly friendlier to the wallet (only slightly) is the chain Zuboraya/づぼらや. It is very easily identifiable in Osaka – its restaurant front is decorated with a huge puffer fish lantern.

Enjoy your fugu and may you live to tell the tale!

Just kidding, you will.

About Author

Lee Shu Shien

Shu Shien is a nature lover who would trek far and wide in search of the most breathtaking sunflower fields, river gorges, caves and beaches Mother Earth has to offer. With her trusty Minolta and preference for printout maps over Google Maps, she travels for chance encounters and to seek the Great Perhaps.


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