Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Looking For Dangerous Cuisine? Why Not Try Fugu?

In the wide, wide world of cuisine, there’s not much that can compare to fugu. The traditional Japanese method of preparing pufferfish involves two things humans are apparently always hungry for: A one-of-a-kind dish and a brush with our own mortality.

Within many of the pufferfish’s vital organs is enough cyanide to kill you several times over. Its liver alone is estimated to contain enough of the poison to end five adult humans’ lives. That’s a potent stat, especially given that the fish is about the size of a football.  So dangerous is working with fugu liver that the fish’s organ was banned entirely in Japan in 1984.

Elena Kuzovkova / EyeEm/Getty Images

In the Yamaguchi prefecture of Japan, fugu is legend. Here, there are statues devoted to the spiny sea critter, along with enough mythology to fill up several textbooks. At places like the Karato Market in Shimonoseki, it’s been coveted for ages, sold to bidders and ultimately processed in meticulous ways to remove all toxic parts. Chefs in Japan undergo a rigorous three-year program just to be able to work with the potentially lethal fish. It’s widely viewed as legend and not fact, but some still believe that the best chefs are able to leave a trace amount of poison in the fish, enough to give the diner numb, slightly tingling lips. 

Because it’s not taken lightly, you don’t hear as much anymore about fugu-related fatalities. But every now and then, you do hear about somebody getting ill or even perishing, typically after preparing at home without the proper training. Whatever it tastes like, it’s fair to say that part of fugu’s major draw is the danger element. And it’s hard not to envision a scene like this one from The Simpsons when it’s ordered.

Sebastian Kopp / EyeEm/Getty Images

In Tokyo, fugu is still seen as a wintertime delicacy. The dish fetches several hundred dollars a plate, often prepared as sashimi or chirinabe, a Japanese fish stew of sorts. In Japan and China, locals have been cooking with the fish for more than 2,000 years. It’s rumored that ancient Egyptians used pufferfish for a recreational sport something like bowling. The tiger pufferfish is the most poisonous and, historically, also the most revered. You can find the fish and its closest siblings in generally warmer seas all over the planet, from Australia to Hawaii.

It’s easy to see why the fish adores Shimonoseki especially. The coastal southwestern part of Japan looks like the Florida Keys of the Far East, with its turquoise waters and island-spanning bridges.

Modern research has equipped the farmers of today to raise poison-free fugu in parts of Japan. For thrill seekers, it’s a decidedly less sexy version. But for those looking to avoid any chance of what sounds like an awful way to go (paralyzed muscles while remaining completely conscious), it’s a welcome option.

Tomono Kenichi / EyeEm/Getty Images

What does fugu taste like? The reviews are all over the board. Some call the flavor a more delicate version of chicken, or downright uneventful. The consistency is somewhat rubbery. But the platings, never mind the inherent thrill, can be gorgeous. And as with so many exotic dining adventures, it’s more about the journey than the first bite.

Prior to the pandemic, a few restaurants outside Japan served the dish, like Restaurant Nippon in New York. Morimoto in Philadelphia and Shiki in Seattle. The full experience, however, seems to involve not only a flirtatious dance with death but a trip to the south of Japan where fugu is king.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
Yes, a lean steak can actually be juicy and delicious — try these
A guide to the leanest cuts of steak
Different raw steak cuts

There's just something about a big, perfectly marbled, wonderfully fatty steak. Meaty, juicy, seared to absolute golden perfection, and satisfying in a way no other dish will ever be, hearty steaks like ribeyes are mealtime magic. Unfortunately for us, though, big, fatty steaks aren't exactly the healthiest option for every meal of the day. As with most everything that tastes wonderful, these steaks are best enjoyed in moderation. So, what do we do in the meantime? How can we satisfy our cravings for a delicious steak and remain conscious of keeping our arteries clean and happy? The answer is simple - reach for a leaner, less fat-filled steak.

We know, we know, leaner steaks have a somewhat nasty reputation for being dry and flavorless. Unfortunately, that reputation is not without due cause. But, if you pick the right cuts and know how to best prepare them, lean cuts of steak can actually be spectacularly flavorful and surprisingly juicy. Not only that but lean steaks are packed with minerals like zinc and iron, which boost immunity and promote healthy cell growth. They're also a wonderful source of essential B vitamins, such as niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.
Sirloin tip-side steak

Read more
Shandies and Radlers are summer classics — these are our favorites
Shandies and Radlers are the perfect summer crushers

When it comes to refreshing alcoholic beverages, it’s difficult to beat the appeal of a shandy or Radler. We already love a crisp, refreshing beer on its own, a glass of tart lemonade, or a citrus-flavored soda. So, it only makes sense to combine the two to make an epic, thirst-quenching, boozy, sweet, tart beverage.

Shandies versus Radlers
The classic shandy is a lemon-flavored beer that is made by combining (usually) a 50/50 mix of lemonade (or a lemon-based drink) and a crisp, refreshing beer. Originally called “shandygaff”, the mixture has its origins in England in the late 1800s.

Read more
Prosecco granita is the base for your new favorite summer cocktail
Prosecco granita is the base for your new favorite summer cocktail recipes
prosecco granita cocktails aleisha kalina g2cxnrermkm unsplash 2d5786

When it comes to summer drinks, isn't there something awfully tempting about a gas station slushie? These drinks may not be subtle or sophisticated in terms of flavor, but there's something undeniably satisfying about the crunchy texture of ice crystals. And for my fellow cocktail enthusiasts, there's a lesson here about texture. You can create something similar in terms of barely-frozen ice that's perfect for summer sipping, and you can do it with far more interesting and complex boozy flavors. It's also shockingly easy to do at home.

What you're going to want to do is make a prosecco granita.
How to make prosecco granita
It really couldn't be simpler to make a granita. All you need to do is take a bottle of prosecco (or other fizzy wine of your choice -- even Champagne if you're feeling fancy) and add a few tablespoons of sugar and any other flavoring ingredients you want. Pour your mixture into a wide, shallow pan (ideally, the liquid should be no more than an inch deep for quick freezing) and then pop the tray into the freezer.

Read more