Fugu (blowfish) is a delicacy as deadly as it is delicious. Throughout Japan, restaurants often put clear tanks of the fish in their windows to beckon passers-by. In Tokyo though, not just anyone has permission to prepare this fatal treat. Chefs, usually in exclusive restaurants, require a license to prepare the fish.
New laws come into effect in October, relaxing the restrictions and allowing restaurants without a license to serve Fugu. Licensed chefs and restaurants across the city are worried about their profits as well as diners’ safety. The new laws will reflect guidelines in other parts of the country where restrictions are less strict.
To qualify for a license, aspiring Fugu chefs must apprentice for two- to three-years, and then pass an examination consisting of a written test, a fish-identification test, and a practical test of preparing and eating the fish. In Tokyo, the cost of the exam can be up to 17,900 yen.
The challenge for these chefs is to separate the edible parts of the fish from organs filled with tetrododoxin , a deadly poison that causes muscle paralysis. If victims are unfortunate enough to ingest even a drop of the toxin, they will lose the ability to breathe and eventually die from asphyxiation. The poison is found in the liver, heart, intestines and eyes, and there is no known cure. The liver is the most toxic and illegal to serve in restaurants. Every year there are reported casualties from people preparing blowfish at home.
A full course Fugu meal includes such delicacies as blowfish tempura, sashimi sliced paper-thin and fanned out across a plate like translucent chrysanthemum petals, and dried-then baked fins served in hot sake. These meals can cost between 100,000 and 200,000 yen.
Some fish-farmers have devised a method of raising non-poisonous fish in a contained environment. By keeping the fugu away from certain bacteria and restricting the fish’s diet, they will not produce lethal levels of tetrododoxin. When the new laws go into effect, diners may want to consider sticking to these.