What’s more exciting than indulging in a hard-to-find delicacy? Indulging in a dangerous, oft-forbidden delicacy. Enter fugu, a type of blowfish or puffer fish that is widely considered the most dangerous food in the world due to a rare poison found in its organs. Despite that, though, a few cultures’ cuisines—namely Japanese—consider the fish a gourmet item.
Consider fugu a double-whammy delicacy: it’s incredibly rare and expensive, plus it can kill you if you consume an ill-prepared fugu dish. But while risky, those who love it insist that fugu is more delicious than it is dangerous, and thus worth the threat. For a long time, fugu was banned in Japan due to the high levels of risk that came with trying to prepare and sell it, but as of 1948, the country’s prefectures allow licensed training for specialty chefs keen on working with fugu fish. That, of course, means that those interested in sampling fugu can rest assured that chefs who prepare the dish undergo rigorous, lengthy training that earns them that scarce fugu license—odds are, if you’re dining in a reputable restaurant, you’re in good hands. While it’s incredibly rare in the U.S., some very high-end Japanese restaurants have been known to feature it on the menu.
Below, the Departures guide to fugu, including how it’s prepared, what it costs, and where to eat fugu puffer fish.
What Is Fugu?
Fugu is a Japanese word that means puffer fish or blowfish. The type of blowfish that’s edible comes from several species of fugu puffer fish found in Asia, all of which are highly poisonous. All toxic organs are removed before eating, but the delicacy requires very careful preparation, which must be performed by someone who knows their way around this menacing sea creature. After all, one mistake could prove fatal. Because of all these elements—the high risk, the special preparation, the mandatory license—a fugu tasting is unsurprisingly pricey, running anywhere from $100 to $200, depending on the restaurant and location.
Why Is Fugu Considered Dangerous?
Fugu fish is dangerous because of the presence of tetrodotoxin (also known as fugu poison), a highly toxic poison found within the fish’s organs. The ovaries, liver, and intestines of a fugu fish are all lethal. It’s even said that fugu fish organs are some 200 times deadlier than cyanide.
Where Does Fugu Come From?
Puffer fish can be found all over the world—there are more than 120 species—but there are very few (only a couple dozen) that can be prepared to eat. The exotic fish is most often served in Japan as fugu sushi or sashimi, but it’s not uncommon to see fugu puffer fish on menus in China and South Korea, too.
How Is Fugu Used?
Fugu is used several ways in a few different cuisines. Most often featured as thinly sliced sashimi, fugu also appears on menus at high-end restaurants grilled, as a stew, and boiled in a hot pot. If you’re looking for an authentic fugu experience, you’ll definitely want to visit a restaurant helmed by a chef trained for fugu preparation. Unlike many other delicacies, fugu cannot be purchased from a gourmet market online or at a local speciality food store.
What Does Fugu Taste Like?
Some claim that fugu tastes a bit like chicken, but die-hard (no pun intended) fans of the unique fish will argue that it has a distinct flavor and texture. White-fleshed and high in protein, the fish’s meat is said to have a nuanced flavor, full of umami and even a bit of sweetness.
Where to Try Fugu Around the World
Of course, restaurants who have chefs trained to serve fugu don’t necessarily serve it nightly. But there are (a scarce number of) restaurants around the globe known for working with and serving fugu—and you can certainly call ahead to ensure that it’s part of your meal. In New York City, Nippon is known for serving fugu, as is Azusa. In Japan, several Michelin-starred restaurants—including Takoyasu in Osaka and Tomoe in Kyoto—are known for their fugu as well.