Thursday, February 9, 2012

FUGU: A Dinner To Die For?

"Fugu". Sounds exotic when you don't know the literal translation..."River Pig". "River", as puffer fish are known to inhabit brackish coastal waters and rivers as well as the open sea. The "pig" part...Well, one look at a pissed-off puffer is explanation enough..

Although there are over 100 species of puffer, fewer than 30 are caught and consumed by the Japanese. They are all deadly if improperly prepared. Most of the poison is in the liver, ovaries and other organs of the fish. Sushi Chefs take 2 years to learn the 30+ step process to rid the fish of its most dangerous bits.

Takafugu, the Tiger Puffer is the most coveted of all. One fish contains enough tetrodotoxin to kill 30 people. 1000 times more toxic than cyanide, a single fatal dose for a human fits on the head of a pin. Despite strict licensing of sushi chefs, several people a year still succumb to fugu's poison every year. Usually fisherman or housewives unafraid to prepare their deadly catch.

(Tiger puffer)

Fugu is considered best in the winter when it's fat content is high. Fugu restaurants often have aquariums full of the fish on display. They're rarely shy when it comes to advertising the specialty of the house....

A fugu meal has several courses. The live fish is usually shown to the guests. It's the end for the unfortunate fugu, but just the beginning for the diners. First, slices of raw fugu are served as sashimi, arranged on beautiful plates, sliced so thin that the designs of the dish can still be admired. Wasabi and soy sauce are no-nos. They would destroy the fish's delicate flavour. Instead a light citrus dipping sauce may be provided or finely chopped green onion. The fins are toasted and served in warm sake. Relax. Have a drink! It'll be ok...

Still alive? You're doing better than the puffer! Next course..fugu chirinabe. Into the hot pot, the fugu flesh goes. Tempura fugu is tasty too, and finally, a rice porridge is made from the broth and nabe (hot pot) leftovers.

Fugu Hot Pot

Was your fugu a boy? Another delicacy may find its way to your table. Shirako. Do you really want to know the English? Don't say I didn't warn you..."sperm sack". Too much information? Smile, nod and swallow. You certainly wouldn't want to offend the fugu Chef now would you? After all, rumour has it in times past he was honour-bound to take his own life if he slipped up with his knife and (literally) lost a customer...


Times have changed somewhat. Bando Mitsugoro VIII was a top Kabuki (traditional Japanese drama) actor and considered a "National Treasure of Japan". Despite it being illegal to sell or serve, Bando was a fugu liver fan. Its the most dangerous, but some argue, the most delicious part of the pufferfish. Supposedly enough of the poison is present to make your lips tingle and induce feeling of euphoria. Bando had 4 servings. He went home to bed feeling "as if he were on a cloud" After 7 hours of convulsions and paralysis, his lungs quit and he asphixiated. Perhaps the worst part of death by fugu is that your brain is 100% operational even as the rest of your body (slowly) shuts down. The restaurant was fined, but it is busier than ever...

Puffer fish are also served in Korea. They have found a far more sinister use in some Caribbean countries....."Mix 1 part fugu poison with 1 part poison frog and 2 parts Datura weed to create....

It takes time to get just the right mix, but with a little practice you can add "Black Magic" to your list of talents. Apparently the fugu/toad mix "kills" (almost) the victim and the nasty weed paste wipes out their memory and keeps them docile. Personally, I prefer my medical practitioners and my sushi chefs properly licensed...

More blogs to follow, suggestions always welcome! No fugu for now on our menu. Rumour has it that prepared fillets can be imported to Canada, but not sold at restaurants. Apparently fugu can be farmed and by controlling their diet, it may be possible to produce non-toxic fugu. Kinda takes away some of the excitement though!

Have a great week!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Kappa Monster!

"Hello! Are you ready to order?"
Customer: "Yes, I'd like a kappamaki please..."

Ah. A kappamaki. A cucumber sushi roll. A favoured food of the Japanese river demon/god Kappa. They're not big guys, Kappas, and they've got holes in their heads. More like a holding tank, actually. As their power comes from water, they must keep water in the indentation atop their heads when venturing onto land.

SCI FI Kappa man!

And when a Kappa hits town he's usually up to no good. Peeking up women's kimonos and farting loudly are minor offenses. A Kappa in a bad mood has been known to kidnap and drown children. They then feed on their victim's livers and entrails by yanking them out of their butts. I swear I am not making this up....

A Kappa in a good mood however may be willing to engage in a friendly sumo match. It's also believed that friendly Kappa were the first to teach humans how to set bones and make traditional medicines. They are also polite to a fault. Chance encounter with a Kappa? Bow. As deeply as possible. The Kappa will always bow back (even deeper to show greater respect) In doing so he will lose the water he carries around on his head and be powerless. Once you have captured him he will be a hard working and loyal servant.

Cute Kappa

Sanbiki has a resident Kappa....Our friend Mr. Kanto in Japan made him out of rolled tissue paper! Like Masato, he prefers rugby to sumo. He's on display at the restaurant along with many other original art works. I think our Kappa is the friendly sort...

We'll try to keep our blogs coming a couple times a month. We enjoy sharing information about Japanese food and culture and the many links between the two. We have a great team at the restaurant and next door at Mori Mori Grocery. We'll include them and their experiences in future blogs. Join us for a KAPPAMAKI soon!