The Fugu Experience: Deadly. Delicate. Delicious

If you’re looking for a Japanese gastronomic experience to die for (pun intended), then you might want to consider having a few slices of fugu fish. If you’ve never heard of it before, then you should know that this Japanese delicacy is nothing to take lightly. It’s known to kill if not prepared by trained pros. Only trained and certified itamaes are (legally) allowed to prepare and serve them. To make you feel slightly better, the rigorous training takes multi-year apprenticeships, and a licensing exam which involves fish identification, a written exam, and preparation and consumption of their prepared fugu. If they’re alive, that means they did something right. 


Fugu sashimi


What is Fugu?

Fugu (河豚 or 鰒;  isフグ)  the Japanese term for what we know as blowfish, globefish, or pufferfish. When it senses danger or enemies nearby, it puffs itself up with water, making it appear bigger to ward off unwanted attention from potential predators. Another defense mechanism of the pufferfish is its poison: tetrodotoxin (TTX). TTX is a potent neurotoxin found in the skin, ovaries, roe, gonads, and liver not only in fugu but also several other fish species, the blue-ringed octopus, the Naticidae, and the rough-skinned newt. This toxin is deadlier than cyanide, and it takes out the nervous system as it goes through your body.



How to Eat Fugu

  • – First, you should choose a tried and tested restaurant, with a respected and trusted itamae who actually does prepare fugu sashimi.
  • – Always book in advanced. A skilled itamae or sushi chef knows that fugu is hard to find.
  • – If the itamae is older (and probably more experienced), that’s a good sign. Any itamae younger than 40 might not have has as much opportunity to prepare fugu compared to the older itamaes.
  • – Ask to be seated at the bar. Watching the itamae skillfully make these bad boys is half the fun and it might be one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities (because of fugu’s rarity and price). The sashimi will be served to you in thin, transparent slices, arranged like a chrysanthemum flower. The fugu sashimi will be accompanied with a halved sudachi or lime, which you might want to lightly add to the fugu. No, there won’t be any wasabi of soy sauce with this. If you want a sauce with this, the itamae would most likely give you a mild ponzu.
  • – Use your chopsticks to gently pick up a piece, and eat is s-l-o-w-l-y. Savor the delicate flavor of the fish, with the slight tang of the lime. You may want to drink smooth sake every few bites.

IMPORTANT: Can you feel your tongue? No? Are you experiencing a tingling numbness in your lips and fingers? Yes? STOP. Call an ambulance.

  • – Generously tip your itamae or at least offer him a glass of sake to toast.
  • – You might not want to eat other sushi with this. Not only is it because the flavor of the fugu would be enough, but also because it will take a big chunk out of your wallet.


Do you have any fugu fish facts that we didn’t cover? Sound off in the comments!