Japanese name for the blowfish or pufferfish, a small fishie which inflates itself with water to erect little spikes on its surface and look bigger than it actually is to scare off predators. Of course, humans aren't so easily fooled.

That's why the fugu is also absolute (really about 57%) deadly poison, which accounts for it being the rarest, most expensive (and suicidal, in this noder's opinion) variety of sushi.

The Fugu is a type of pufferfish, most notably served as a type of Sashimi.

Fugu is usually served arranged in the shape of a chrysanthemum - the traditional funeral flower of Japan. Why?

Fugu can kill you.

The ovaries, liver, and intestines of the Fugu contain tetrodotoxin. Labeled as an extremely potent poison by the FDA, tetrodotoxin can "produce rapid and violent death"1, which sounds a lot more fun than it probably is. It starts with a slight numbness of the lips, and ends in total paralysis.

Fret not, however. In Shimonoseki (Japan's Fugu Capital), Fugu chefs must apprentice under a master for at least three years, and then pass a multitude of tests. Once they pass, they are eligible for a license.

Fugu chefs in Shimonoseki are strictly supervised. However, if you intend to dine on Fugu elsewhere, beware. Most Fugu deaths have been attributed to amateur preparation. In 1997, of the eight people to die of food poisoning in Japan, six died from Fugu.

1.) Quote taken from the FDA's paper on tetrodotoxin: http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~mow/chap39.html

Before my arrival in Japan, I read that one of the most popular specialties of the region where I am now living is fugu, the deadly poisonous blowfish. Great, I thought, I'll be surrounded by suicidal maniacs. Upon arrival I confirmed that fugu was not only readily available but that almost everyone I was working with had tried it at least once. I'd heard rumors years ago that the delicacy was incredibly expensive and terribly dangerous and for this reason I decided it was vital that I have some of it on my birthday.

Ah! Fugu oishii desu!

I asked the school secretary about a good place to get some of the deadly sashimi and he was very excited to hear that I was willing to try this Japanese delicacy. He helped me to make reservations at a restaurant, and then told me how much his wife and children love to eat fugu. My eyes nearly popped out of my head. Isn't that attempted homicide? No one else in the staff room seemed concerned and they were more amused at my reaction than the thought of a man feeding poison to his children.

And this is the thing: Fugu is not nearly as dangerous as it has been portrayed. Yes, the fish itself it so full of toxins, that if prepared improperly, it can kill you on the spot. However it is almost impossible to get a license to prepare and sell blowfish without thorough training. There is no rush in eating fugu nor is it ridiculously expensive. There are certainly restaurants where you can buy a fugu plate for upwards of 400US$, but you can also buy a 400US$ steak in the west. It's called fine dining.

The fugu at my birthday dinner was neither expensive nor deadly. It was one of the nicest sashimi's I've tasted and I didn't find it to be chewy or rubbery. In fact, as the school secretary had said, it was delicious and I found myself finishing off portions from the other guests who remained freaked out. I was slightly startled when my lips went numb with the first taste, but I was told afterwards, that a good fugu chef prides himself on being able to leave enough of the poison to do just that.

A fugu is also a traditional garment worn by men in Ghana. It is made from gonja cloth, woven by the Gonja of northern Ghana (Gonja used to be an independent kingdom before the Ashanti conquered them and the British in turn conquered the Ashanti); the more famous kente cloth is really just a colourful and more complex variation of gonja cloth.

Gonja cloth is traditionally made from cotton hand-picked and spun by women, though the cloth itself is woven by men on horizontal hand looms. The cloth is generally dyed blue with indigo or left its natural off-white, and so the traditional colours of the cloth, and the fugu, are blue and white, though today other colours may also be used. The looms on which gonja and kente cloths are woven yield strips of material 5 or 6 inches (12-15 cm) in width and up to 15 or 20 feet long (5-7 m). To make a fugu, the strips are cut into appropriate lengths and sewn together into a loose tunic-like garment which can be sleeveless or with half-length sleeves. Fugu are generally worn quite loose and may have triangles of cloth sewn into the bottom of the garment to make it even looser, almost bell-shaped; they can hang to the waist, the knee, or even lower. Fugu are often paired with trousers made of the same material, baggy at the top and tight at the ankles, and sometimes an embroidered skullcap. Kente cloth, by contrast, is traditionally sewn into large swaths which are wrapped around the body and draped across one shoulder, toga-style.

Ghanaian decorative arts include embroidery that used to be done by hand, though today sewing machines are more often used. Whatever the tool, the intricate patterns embroidered around the necklines and hems of fugu and trousers are beautiful to behold. It is remarkable that such elaborate and gorgeous costumes prepared in such a labour-intensive way were everyday wear for men in northern Ghana.

African independence movements spawned a resurgence of interest in traditonal arts, and Ghana was no exception. In 1957 Kwame Nkrumah wore a fugu when he declared Ghana's independence, and he encouraged educated nationalists to adopt the fugu as a symbol of pride in indigenous Ghanaian arts.

www.africana.com
aaims.freeyellow.com/Fugu.html

河豚

As liontamer points out, eating the meat of fugu, or Japanese blowfish, has never been particularly dangerous. While it is well known that fugu fish frequently contain the powerful neurotoxin known as tetrodotoxin, one gram of which would be enough to kill 500 people through paralysis and eventual suffocation, the toxin is only found in the fish's liver, and occasionally a few other innards, such as the ovaries and the intestines. As long as these organs are removed before consumption, the fish is perfectly safe to eat.

The true thrill in eating fugu used to lie in eating the liver, which contains the lethal tetrodotoxin approximately 60 percent of the time. Indeed, the most famous victim of fugu poisoning, renowned kabuki actor Bando Mitsugoro VIII, died at age 69 in 1975 from eating fugu liver he prepared himself in his Kyoto home. But serving fugu liver or other parts deemed dangerous has been banned for more than 20 years, with hefty punishments of three years in prison or a $30,000 fine, which along with an exacting testing and licensing program for fugu chefs, has limited deaths by fugu to a mere 3 in 2003, and all of those resulted from amateur in-home preparation. Suffice to say, you can go eat your fugu with serenity of mind.

Recent research presented at a 2004 convention of the Food Hygenics Society of Japan, however, suggests that even fugu liver may be made safe for consumption. Scientists at Nagasaki University found that the blowfish does not itself produce the tetrodotoxin. Rather, the toxin is produced by bacteria ingested when the fish feed on contaminated creatures living on the sea floor, such as crabs, shellfish, and starfish. When researchers raised fugu for three years in cages suspended three meters above the seabed and fed them only uncontaminated fish and krill, all the fugu were found to be tetrodotoxin-free.

The research suggests that a time may soon come when the 1983 ban on serving fugu liver and other innards will be lifted by the Japanese government, especially considering that 80 percent of fugu on the market are already cultivated on fish farms to begin with. But many people wonder what would happen to the thrill of eating fugu liver if all fugu were raised in hermetic conditions to be 100 percent guaranteed safe. Yoshiyasu Taniguchi, a 64-year-old chef at Tokyo fugu restaurant Uonao, said that "In the old days, connoiseurs delighted in eating fugu liver to cherish the tingling and numbness it produced." But Shigeru Nakanishi, third-generation owner of Tokyo fugu restaurant Hyotan, dismissed the thrills ascribed to the brush with death: "You should not focus too much on the liver. The numbness is just a distraction. What is essential is how well the various parts of the fish are prepared."


Quotations from the the Japan Times, May 18, 2004.

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