December 8, 2013

by Shiho Tanaka and Keita Matsui

Live Fugu

Fugu in a tank

Fugu is a fish known as ‘blowfish’ in English.  There are about 120 types, but we can eat only Torafugu and Mafugu.  However, they have poisons in different parts of their bodies, so people who don’t know about this may have health problems if they eat it.  Fugu is usually caught in winter, but now the technology for freezing and cultivation is very good, so it is possible to eat fugu in every season.

History of Fugu

Fugu has been eaten in Japan since about B.C 10,000, but people didn’t really know how to cook it in this era. This means they probably ate the dangerous parts of the fish when they broiled or boiled it back then.  From about 1570, after a fair number of people had died from eating fugu, General Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a great leader of the time, banned consumption of the fish.  It wasn’t until around 1870 that people started to eat it widely again, and it then became a real delicacy or high-class food.

Names of Fugu

In Japan, there are different names for fugu depending on the area.  In Kyushu, for instance, it is called ‘Fuku’, and in Osaka, it is known as ‘Teppo’.  Teppo means gun in English, which obviously refers to the deadly nature of fugu and the many people killed by its poison long ago.  In Nagasaki prefecture, people call it ‘Ganba’, and there is also ‘Nagoyafugu.

Fugu sashimi

How to Eat Fugu

People eat this fish in a variety of interesting ways, but the most popular way is as sashimi.  Sashimi is sliced, raw fish, and in the case of fugu it is widely known as ‘Fugusashi’.  Raw fugu is sliced thinner than usual sashimi, because the flesh is harder than that of other fish.  Another famous way to eat it is in ‘Nabe’.  Nabe is a dish in which a variety of ingredients are boiled together in a communal style pot.  In Japan, there are lots of types of nabe, for example, Kimuchi, giblets, vegetable, and fugu. ‘Fugunabe’ includes vegetables, shiitake mushrooms, and of course, fillets of fugu.  There are other names for Fugunabe, too, such as ‘Techiri’ and ‘Fuguchiri’.  Fugu flesh can also be eaten fried, along with some of the internal organs of the fish, and the texture is rather creamy and quite delicious.  However, eating these parts can be quite dangerous, as there are certain toxins or poisons present, which can cause serious health problems for the diner, especially when eating the liver.  Therefore, it is not advisable for a layperson to try and cook the fish themselves, but rather they should visit a restaurant that has qualified chefs up to the task.  Not all restaurants are able to offer this, so one should be careful when selecting a place.  This is what makes fugu dining a high class or gourmet event, and sometimes quite expensive.

Fugu nabe

Deep fried fugu

High Class Fugu Restaurants

There are a number of high-class Japanese style Fugu restaurants in Kyoto, and we would like to introduce two here.  The first is “Fukushin” (http://fukushin.cc/).  This restaurant was established in 1947, and uses natural and high quality fugu.  The lunchtime menu is relatively cheap, so this might be the best time to visit.  Also, “Suehiro” (http://kyoto-suehiro.com/12.html) is another good choice.  This place has a 63-year history and is located in a thriving and happening area of Kyoto.  If you want to go here, the best time of year is between October and March, when the fish is of the best and freshest quality.

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