Food & Drink

How to Eat the Poisonous Blowfish That’s the Most Dangerous Japanese Dish

Chefs must apply for a specialized license to prepare fugu fish.

fugu fish; blowfish

Fugu fish stew and Tora fugu sashimi. Photo by gyro/Getty Images/Canva

By Jessica Poitevien

Dec 7, 2021

FOR MANY TRAVELERS, part of the fun of exploring the world is trying new-to-them foods that are unavailable back home. Sometimes, that means eating parts of an animal they’re not used to or chomping on insects and unfamiliar fruits. In Yamaguchi Prefecture of Japan, that could mean trying a dish that’s potentially life-threatening. Blowfish, or fugu in Japanese, is by far the country’s most dangerous dish.

It’s also the one that Shimonoseki is most known for. If improperly prepared, fugu can be toxic to those who consume it — perhaps you remember the classic Simpsons episode when Homer is given 24 hours to live after eating raw blowfish improperly prepared by a trainee chef? In real life, only registered chefs with special licenses are allowed to create meals with this finicky fish.

In fact, eating fugu is so dangerous that it was outlawed in Japan in the 16th century, though many secretly kept the tradition alive. In 1888, Itō Hirobumi, the first Japanese prime minister, ate a dish with the blowfish during a visit to the Shunpanro restaurant in Shimonoseki. He was so impressed by its flavor that he decided to lift the ban and declared Shimonoseki the “home of fugu.”

Shunpanro may have been the first restaurant in Japan to be officially licensed in preparing dishes with fugu, but many others now serve the poisonous puffer. Today, the most common way to eat fugu fish is to cut it into thin slices, wrap it with spring onions, and dip it in vinegar and soy sauce. Sometimes, the slices are so thin they become transparent. Other famous dishes include fried fugu, fugu hot pot, a fugu rice porridge, and hirezake (a hot sake with a grilled fugu fin in it).

Fugu may be the main attraction in Shimonoseki, but the city — and the Yamaguchi Prefecture in general — is also home to many other seafood delights. The area is particularly known for its preparation of anglerfish liver, sometimes called the “foie gras of the sea,” and creamy sea urchin dishes.

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