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May '08

To Die For: Travelling to Japan to Eat Fugu

“Before I’d arrived at this dark, back-alley restaurant in Tokyo, I’d been told that trust was the most crucial element involved when choosing a fugu chef. It was like selecting a heart surgeon or a private pilot.

‘The fugu chef has your life in his hands,’ one of my Japanese friends had said. Which is why my first impulse, upon greeting Mr. Naohisa Hashimoto, is to turn around, in the most diplomatic possible way, of course, and run screaming back to my hotel. Hashimoto is dressed in a white chef’s coat that’s slightly stained around the pockets with fish guts. He has a spiky haircut, like the wires on a brush, and big, prominent ears, which give him a passing resemblance to Don Knotts.

His little restaurant, called Mukoujima Hashimoto, is located on a lonely residential street in the working-class Sumida section of Tokyo (’If we are in New York, this is Queens,’ my interpreter says), a tidy establishment with just three low-slung tables set over tatami matting. The chef lives above his place, like an old-time saloon keeper. Only tonight, there are no sounds of clattering pots coming from upstairs, no comforting pitter-patter of tiny children’s feet.

There are no waiters, either; no dishwashers, no friendly neighbors dropping by for a cup of tea. As every food-obsessed traveler knows, the first rule when looking for a decent meal in a strange place is to choose a crowded room. But on this April Friday evening in otherwise bustling Tokyo, this curious little fugu restaurant is as empty as a tomb.”

New York Magazine writer Adam Platt lives to tell the tale of his risky experience eating fugu in Japan, of which Ruth Reichl said, “It’s like eating fluke, only you’re playing Russian roulette”.

You can read more of Adam Platt’s article here.

According to Wikipedia’s article on fugu

“The poison, a sodium channel blocker, paralyzes the muscles while the victim stays fully conscious, and eventually dies from asphyxiation. There is currently no antidote, and the standard medical approach is to try to support the respiratory and circulatory system until the effect of the poison wears off. It is alleged that non-lethal quantities of the poison remain in the flesh of the fish and give a special desired tingling sensation on the tongue, which leads to the fingers.”

Most properly prepared fugu is safe. However, for more than 50% of fugu’s few victims, death occurs within the first 24 hours.

Question: Would you fugu?

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