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.


  1. We gave fugu as our summer gift to the in-laws this year...they survived ;)

  2. wow vk, the perfect gift for in-laws - fugu! this could be the beginning of a whole new export business.

    glad yer in-laws survived, though :)

  3. Ugly, oversized, yuk. Sorry they just seem... wrong.

  4. lady lynn - what, the poor wee puffer fish? it's probably hard to tell from the shite photos i took from my phone, but they were very cute and had terribly expressive faces. and i use the past tense as someone has probably eaten them by now :/

    i like em, but i like most sea critters.

  5. nothing like playing Russian roulette whith your food

  6. eeeuwwww sorry Gaijin Girl just don't like them! oooh i think they're thimply howwid. I have two goldfish (called Humphrey and Dave) and they're lovely but i do hope they don't get big. Oversized animals of any sort kind of freak me really. lol.

  7. Fugu are too cute to eat.
    Having said that, I'll probably give it a go when I go to Japan. I'm currently waiting for Jun to get back from Tokyo with more tins of whalemeat for me (yum)!

  8. What's that like, Dive? Doesn't sound too appetising to be honest, especially tinned, not sure why.

  9. rich - yes it's the food equivalent of extreme sports. there's also mochi, which is a rice cake made from glutinous rice that has been pounded and then moulded into shape. it's really sticky and people die from choking on it. the news reports how many people have died around the new year period when it's traditional to eat it - two men this year. it's amazing that the news reports it so matter-of-factly. er, and that people are eating it.

    lady lynn - goldfish are great. don't they grow proportionally to the size of their tank? should be easy to keep them small, then. i like the big ones (that aussie theme again). i was looking after some goldfish (2 separate tanks) when friends were back in oz. my mates got back to tokes and all the fish were dead. ah :/ still not sure what happened.

    dive - i can't eat anything that looks like it's supposed to. i would probably faint trying to eat lobster. i haven't tried whalemeat, and never will.

  10. It is astonishingly yummy.

  11. goodness that rice cake should carry a health warning and like you im amazed people eat it.
    How horrid to have something die on you when you're supposed to be looking after it oooh dear. I don't know how big my fish will get (will post a pic some time) but i'm hoping they'll remain in proportion. Eeeuuwww. Again.

  12. Are these the same folks who commit seppuku and crash airplanes into ships?

    Mmmmm. Tasty fish.

  13. dive - i have a bit of a problem with the whole whale killing thingy. there are lots of other things that can satisfy my tastebuds. mmm, strawberries.

    lady lynn - ha, mochi is eaten because that's what one does. perhaps it's even tasty, not sure, as i won't try it. i've defied death this long, so won't tempt fate with some silly rice cake.
    yes, i was gutted about the fish dying. especially bill as i'd looked after him for a year or so and he was an absolute legend. the most charismatic goldfish i've ever met.
    please post pics of yer goldfish soon. i'd love to see them.

    forty_two - ha, no these are different folk with a different death wish.

  14. I think it's pretty amazing that the Japs persisted on eating this fish. The first time anyone did it, back in the day, they would have died right? And then the next guy...and the guys after him etc. But they kept doing it.

    Japanese Person 1: (peering at his friend who is carving up a fugu) Isn't that the same fish that killed Dave? And a whole village down South?

    Japanese Person 2: Yeah. But I don't think they tried eating THIS part.

  15. too true, fatty. i often wonder how people came to know what was edible and what wasn't. it probably took a fair bit of ingenuity and imagination. i admire the person who looked at a lobster and thought, i bet whatever's in that claw would be delicious.