A Fish to Die For

10 Dec

Written by Chad Fraley

Fugu Fish, Eat Life

We have all heard great stories about people staking their livelihoods at the poker table, but risking one’s life at dinner? What an interesting proposition… If you’re in the mood for gambling with seafood and betting your life, this is your dish. Fugu, Japanese for puffer fish, is the most dangerous food being served today and has been for centuries. It is considered a delicacy in the two countries that allow it to be served, Japan and the United States (as of 2003).

The kidneys and the liver of this fish contain a lethal amount of poison called tetrodotoxin. This is a neurotoxin that will shut down electrical impulses of nerves if ingested, binding itself to sodium channel proteins in the nerve cell membranes. At onset, this causes headaches, nausea, exhaustion and dizziness, followed by paralysis. With paralysis comes not only the inability to move muscles, but also leads to loss of speech, and then breath. The victim will finally asphyxiate from the poison and be awake for the whole thing, enduring everything while conscious. Death typically occurred in 50-80 percent of diners within four to 24 hours of ingestion. The whole thing kind of reminds me of a bad episode from “Tales from the Crypt”. Currently, there is no known antidote for fugu poisoning. Trying to sustain the respiratory and circulatory systems are crucial for the victim to have a chance at all of survival. As of recently, however, researchers, along with farmers, have found a way to breed a non-toxic strain of fugu.

Not only is this a risky bet, it’s also an expensive one. A single dish of fugu goes for around $50 (but has been found for as low as $20). If you want a complete fugu meal, it will probably be a little more, costing somewhere between $100 and $200. There are 17 restaurants in The United States that serve this dangerous feast, and 12 of them are in New York. These highly poisonous fish require a special license obtained by a chef trained to the Japanese standard of preparing and cooking fugu to certain, safe, specifications.

The most bizarre part of my research was that in some parts of Japan, a fugu victim is placed next to a coffin for three days and if the body does not start to decompose, it’s not dead. They then start a revival procedure that is not in any medical books. This happens especially in the most primitive areas of the country. There are some stories of victims showing death like signs after laying there for a few days and being completely conscious, then coming out of this coma like trance just moments before being cremated. I’m not sure if any taste is worth that gamble.

I have read and heard it’s a slight cross between flounder and the freshest of cuttlefish in flavor and texture. Rated by NY Magazine as having the best tasting fugu in New York City, is none other than Morimoto, at 88 Tenth Ave. The dangerous delicacy is served between October and March, which is prime fugu season. The Iron Chef has never had any fatalities after dining at his restaurant, undefeated, if you will (knock on wood). The fish are cleaned and dressed in Japan, flash frozen and flown over here, where they are safer by the time they get to your plate. The innards are disposed of in a hazardous waste container like syringes in a hospital.

I think I’ll keep my gambling to cards and leave the fish to those who dare to digest it. If you ever decide to try it, make sure you do a little research on it first, and eat at a reputable restaurant like Morimoto. Good luck and safe eating.

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