TOKYO >> The last course of my fugu meal in Japan was a flaming cup of sake with fugu fins.
If you’re going to eat something that could kill you, you might as well get a little drunk.
Fugu, also known as pufferfish or blowfish, can be fatal if not prepared correctly.
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The liver, ovaries, eyes and other organs of the fish contain tetrodotoxin, a poison that causes paralysis. It kills when the paralysis reaches the muscles that enable you to breathe.
So when my mouth began to get numb, I wondered whether it was because of the poison or the alcohol.
And really, should I be eating a potentially poisonous fish?
Fugu is widely available in Japan, where chefs have to be specially trained and licensed to cut the fish and carefully remove the deadly organs.
Dozens of restaurants specialize in fugu in Tokyo, and hundreds more throughout Japan. So lots of people eat it, and very few, really only a small number, die.
I suppose that’s part of the foodie thrill of the meal. You’ll probably be OK but there is that risk.
At Fugu Ichiro, a restaurant in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, no one spoke English, so I had to point at what I wanted on the menu.
I had to hope that nothing was lost in translation.
The first dish was the fugu skin, served with ponzu sauce and seaweed. It was tasty, the skin crunchy and chewy.
I also ordered sashimi, cut so thin it was translucent and you could see the plate below.
Raw fugu is delicate and was especially good in the ponzu sauce.
I also tried pan-fried fugu, which had a light taste, similar to other white-meat fish.
So far, so good.
I had heard that some people experience a tingling or numbness when eating fugu. But until the sake, that hadn’t happened to me.
More of a concern was the feeling of lightness in the wallet.
Fugu’s not cheap.
So, with my mouth getting numb and enough money left for taxi fare, it seemed like a good time to go back to the hotel to sleep.
And hopefully, wake up.
Web producer Craig Gima tries out new foods in a video and print series every other Wednesday. Dare him to try a really scary food: email@example.com.