17 January 2007
'One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish' or 'The River Pig'
As a committed Generation X-er – with subsequent nihilism, short attention span and too much free time – most of my knowledge about fugu, or blow fish, came from the Simpsons. Then I moved to Japan... and everything I know about fugu is still pretty much based on that classic episode where Homer eats the ill-prepared fish, and is then diagnosed and given 24-hours to live.
Fugu is still considered to be a delicacy in Japan, despite the fact that its organs contain a mighty wallop of tetrodotoxin. Tetrodotoxin is produced by certain bacteria, including Pseudoalteromonas tetraodonis, mainly in the liver and the ovaries of fugu, but also the skin and the testicles. Toxicity varies between species, seasons and geographic localities and the flesh of many fugu is not necessarily toxic. For this reason, only specially licensed chefs can prepare and sell fugu and the consumption of the liver and ovaries is forbidden (although this makes it more tantalising for some).
Despite the risks, many still enjoy fugu’s supposedly bland taste. Half the people poisoned by fugu can expect to live between 4 – 24 hours. If you survive longer than 24-hours your chances of recovery are good, otherwise you're buggered as the symptoms are not pretty. The poison does not cross the blood-brain barrier, so you remain fully conscious as your body becomes paralyzed. You will be unable to speak or move due to paralysis, you will soon be unable to breathe and you will subsequently asphyxiate.
It is estimated that around 40 kinds of blow fish are caught and cultured in Japan, and that 10,000 tonnes are consumed each year. Idiots. I hope they had their list of things to do at the ready. Poisonous parts of fugu differ, depending on the kind of fugu. The fish defend themselves by inflating their bodies to several times their normal size and poisoning their predators – the predators in my view being humans. Righteous justice, I say.
A few other random facts plagiarized from Wikipedia:
Fugu is reported to be one of the main ingredients used in voodoo to turn people into zombies, as tetrodotoxin creates a 'death-like' state.
Fugu is the only delicacy officially forbidden to the Emperor of Japan.
An account from a punter who survived fugu poisoning (If nothing else, read this article).
I was meandering down a backstreet in Tokes when I happened across these piranha-wannabes. Poor fellas.