What kind of fish is FUGU?
Fugu (Puffer fish) has a special presence to Japanese among numerous fishes. The way of eating is not different from other fish such as sashimi, hotpot, and deep-fry, but people say “going to eat Fugu” rather than “going to eat fish” when they go to eat. It may have an image of extraordinary and extravagant to eat Fugu because it is known as the high-quality fish and usually eat at a special meeting or occasion. Around Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi prefecture that is known as the home of Fugu, it is called “Fuku” rather than “Fugu.” It has been positioned as a special fish for a long time as an ingredient for celebrations and being promoted as “Fuku,” which represents “happiness.”
Fugu is prized in Japan as described, but many countries surprise for eating Fugu because it has poison in the body. Even in Japan, due to the deadly poison that combined with deliciousness which praised as "wish to eat Fugu but life is dear" (“Honey is sweet, but the bee stings”) since ancient times, Fugu was generally forbidden to eat since Toyotomi Hideyoshi issued a ban of eating Fugu, and there had been stringent regulations through the Edo period (1603-1868) until Meiji era (1888).
It has been 130 years since lifting the ban over Fugu in Shimonoseki this year. Although the luxurious image remains as it is, Fugu has become more familiar as you can eat at a reasonable price than before. It is secretly attracting attention in terms of health as it contains a lot of collagen, and it is low in calories and high in protein. How was it safely provided in Japan and attracted people? Let us introduce the charm of Fugu which is generally not known yet.
What is Fugu? What types of Fugu are there?
Kitaoji Rosanjin (* 1) known as a gastronomic artist listed Fugu as “the most delicious food in Japan.” What kind of fish is Fugu which made gourmets impressed since ancient times? It is said that winter is the season of Fugu, but it is now distributed in the market all year round because of the advancement of aquaculture technology and becoming more familiar than before. The one that comes to mind with Fugu is “Torafugu (tiger puffer)” famous for beautifully decorated Fugu sashimi. However, it is said that there are about 100 kinds of Fugu in the world in fact, and familiar sunfish and filefish in the aquarium are also members of Fugu. About 50 species live in the waters around Japan, 22 of which are permitted for edible use in Japan.
(1 *) Kitaoji Rosanjin: The artist who worked from the Meiji era to the Showa era. His activities range from scratch, sculpture, calligraphy, paintings, lacquer arts, and cooking.
However, as Fugu contains the poison called “tetrodotoxin” in the body, it will be further restricted to whether you can eat or not according to the place of landing and the parts. Fugu has 3 edible parts: flesh(muscle), skin, Shirako (soft roe, testis), and the restaurants mainly serve Torafugu (Domestic natural, Domestic farmed), Mafugu (Fugu porphyreus, Domestic natural), Gomafugu (Takifugu stictonotus, Domestic natural), Shosaifugu (Takifugu snyderi, Domestic natural), Higanfugu (Takifugu pardalis, Domestic natural) and so on (types may vary by region).
The naturally produced Torafugu is known as the highest-grade Fugu called “king of Fugu.” Mafugu is soft compared to Torafugu, and gained popularity next to Torafugu as “queen of Fugu.” Mafugu is branded as “Hagi no Mafugu” in Hagi city of Yamaguchi, and it is likely to gather more attention in the future because of its cheaper price than Torafugu. Higanfugu is called in this name as it is frequently caught in the early spring called Higan (mid to late March). Gomafugu is often caught from Shimane through into the northern part of the Japan sea, and Shosaifugu has been eaten as hotpot and so on in the Kanto region.
Is it safe to eat Fugu?
Unlike other fish, Fugu has the deadly poison “tetrodotoxin" in organ, skin, blood, muscle etc. Not everyone can cook Fugu because it has deadly poison. Because of that, the edible part of Fugu has been specified as mentioned earlier and it can’t be cooked and provided without special qualification.
There is no unified national qualification in handling Fugu, but based on the “Fugu Ordinance,” only “licensed Fugu chef” who got the license in the Fugu Cook Exam conducted by the prefectural governor can cook (remove poison parts). Let's see what kind of exam to obtain a license with referring to the case of Tokyo.
The requirement for taking an exam of “licensed Fugu chef” is that you first need to have a chef's license and you have engaged in handling Fugu for over 2 years under the qualified Fugu chef. The exam has a written and a skill exam such as identification of the type of Fugu, the distinction between the part which can be eaten or not, and cooking after removing toxic parts, will be done. It seems you can’t pass the exam just removing the highly toxic part but need to have the full knowledge of Fugu. How to acquire this Fugu Cooking License varies depending on prefectures, but the 130 years of ban lifting history is with such efforts.
What does Fugu taste like?
Fugu has three edible parts of flesh, skin, and Shirako. There are creative dishes at each restaurant, but we introduce you the traditional way of eating Fugu here.
● The flesh can be eaten as:
・Finely sliced sashimi
・Tempura and Kara-age (deep-fry)
・Hotpot, then rice porridge after adding rice to the hotspot
The symbolic one in the Fugu dishes would be “Fugu sashimi,” which is decorated like petals on a huge plate. The traditional one is using Fugu slices to resemble petals of “Chrysanthemum” and “Peony,” and it is served artistically that thinly sliced until the pattern of the plate is transparent. When you eat, it is recommended to grab 2 to 3 pieces together by using chopsticks rather than elegantly pick piece by piece. Because Fugu itself is very light taste and elasticity fish, you can enjoy the aftertaste and feeling umami by biting well with condiments (ponzu, grated spicy radish, leeks, salt etc.). Kitaoji Rosanjin points out Fugu as the most delicious Japanese food, however he expressed as “the ineffable charm is hiding behind the taste, which is unknown.” It seems some people who stay away from Fugu as “Fugu is expensive but tastes too light,” but please try to feel a sense of its umami and deepness by letting a couple of slices dipping into ponzu and take time to taste.
It is easy to eat as no fine bones in Tempura and Kara-age, and you can enjoy a plumpy texture peculiar to white fish. You can feel the taste of Fugu if you lightly seasoned.
The soup’s umami is doubled by entering the bony parts in hotpot which appearing at last in the Fugu course. Let’s enjoy eating rice porridge soaking into the final taste of Umami which comes out from the bony part and tastes the plumpy flesh loosely laid around the bone.
●Skin can be parboiled and cut into thin pieces. It is often mixed with ponzu, and it is also attracting attention in beauty aspects such as anti-aging because the skin is rich in oceanic collagen and low-calorie content. You can enjoy a crunchy texture.
● Shirako (soft roe) is characterized by a thick and creamy texture. You can eat as sashimi, charcoal grill and stew.
● There are three edible parts, but there is one more way to enjoy which mustn’t ignore if you like Japanese sake. It is “Hirezake (sake with grilled fin).” In addition to hot sake, cold Hirezake is also popular recently. For hot sake, grill the dried Torafugu fins till light brown and pour hot sake (warm sake) in. The umami melts out, and the unique flavor gets into Sake. It is recommended to sip with Fugu dishes.
How much does it cost to eat Fugu? How much is a plate?
Fugu has a strong image of expensive fish. Everybody wants to enjoy it, but prices are also con-cerned. The price changes depending on not only cooking methods such as sashimi, Kara-age, or hotpot, and also according to the kind of Fugu used, natural or farmed, and location of the shop etc. At some stores, shirako may be set as a market price. The following prices (all are for one person) are a guideline to some extent (the amount of each serving is different for each shop, and the price may vary as well).
・Sashimi (farmed), Approx. 1,500 yen
・Chirinabe hotpot, Approx. 2,500 yen
・Kara-age (Fried Fugu), Approx. 1,500 yen
・Shirako (soft roe), Approx. 2,000 yen
It will be quite expensive if you eat all of them (you may want to taste Sake too), but some shops serve reasonable single items such as tempura and Kara-age at lunch menus.
Here is the restaurant where you can eat Fugu
Fugu is born with deadly poison, but we now understood the approach to safety, so don’t you want to enjoy its mysterious deliciousness after all?
Photogenic Fugu sashimi is splendid
"Fukutarou" of Kitakyushu that is a pioneer of home delivery of Fugu cuisine opened the local specialty restaurant in Ginza in 2012. You can taste the selected Fugu directly deliver from Kitakyushu throughout the year. We recommend you to experience their photogenic Fugu sashimi. They are so artistic as to hesitate to eat, such as “Ryu-mori” that a dragon is used as a motif, “Tsuru-mori” which draws a crane to elegantly fly, “Mt. Fuji” with a graceful appearance, and they are perfect for celebrations. There are 2 types of natural Fugu courses (50,000 yen for 2 people, 40,000 yen for 2 people) and 2 types of farmed Fugu courses (13,000 yen or 10,000 yen per person). They also offer you courses which you can enjoy comparing natural and farmed sashimi. A 3,900-yen course meal is served at lunchtime that you can enjoy various tastes of Fugu little by little. Even in a la carte, dishes can be eaten only at this shop, such as Torafuku rice, red and white Fugu Siu-Mai containing lots of collagen.
It is Tonosama-Himesama (King and princess) Torafugu course with Torafugu sashimi, decorated in a crane shape which is a graceful appearance of dancing in the blue sky. Taste it with attached Shirako sauce. It is 13,000 yen per person (excluding tax) and contains pickled Torafugu, smoked Fugu, Torafugu skin, Torafugu sashimi decorated in crane shape, grilled Fugu, grilled Torafugu Shirako, red and white Torafugu Siu-Mai, Torafugu Kara-age, Torafugu hotpot (or shabu-shabu), rice porridge (or Torafugu udon), pickles, and sweets. It is possible to order from one person. Book by 2 hours before the day (photo is for one person).
You can feel relaxed with Japanese modern interior. Fugu restaurant is often used for a business dinner by many male customers, but many female customers come here.
●Nishi Gobangai Sakaguchi Bldg., B1F, 5-5-8, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
●12:00-15:00 / 17:00-22:00
●Closed on Sundays and National Holidays
●3-minute walk from Tokyo Metro Ginza Station
It is right next to the Tsukiji market. Abundant à la carte menus.
Tsukiji Tentake is located in front of Tsukiji Market called Tokyo’s kitchen, and the Kachidoki Bridge over the Sumida River. The restaurant was opened as the tempura restaurant in the Meiji era (1868-1912) by the founder. The owner Mr. Hamada wants to stick to the volume of hotpot as well as its tastiness, and serve the expensive Fugu at a possibly reasonable price. In addition to popular dish-es such as Torafugu sashimi and so on, there are various à la carte menus that you want to try just by looking at them, such as Fugu Tsukuneyaki and Fugu sushi. You can taste Fugu nuggets in the summer. For overseas customers, the popular a la carte is Fugu sashimi and Kara-age, and the popular course is Tsukiji course, and Kara-age is especially recommended dish to eat. Fugu Tem-pura bowl is available at lunchtime, you can also order a course menu as well. The seats are availa-ble from 1st to 5th floor, and there are table rooms, tatami rooms as well as Japanese style and Western-style private rooms, so it is convenient to choose according to the number of people and purpose.
Torafugu sashimi, beautifully arranged in chrysanthemum shape. 3,900 yen per person (excluding tax). (photo is for three people)
Plump and crispy Fugu tempura 1,600 yen (excluding tax)
Tsukiji Course contains vinegared Fugu, Torafugu sashimi, Fugu salad, Fuguchiri hotpot, and rice porridge set. 6,190 yen per person (excluding tax). Available to order from 2 people (photo is for 2 people)
The bountiful Tentake Course contains starters (3 items), Fugu skin sashimi, Torafugu sashimi, Fugu Kara-age, Torafugu hot-pot, rice porridge set, and dessert. 12,857 yen per person (excluding tax). Available to order from a single person (photo is for one person).
●6−16−6, Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
●Closed on Sundays from March 1 to the end of October, GW (early May holiday) and Summer holidays
●Open 7 day a week from November to the end of February (except 12/31-1/4)
●Private room is available from 4 people and should order the meal over 12,000 yen per person (excluding tax).
●7-minute walk from Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line Tsukiji Station, or 10-minute walk from Toei Oedo Line Kachidoki Station
Plump, springy, and nice scent “Yaki (grilled) Fugu”
“Yaki Fugu” had invented by Yume-teppo changed a fixed image of the ordinary way of eating Fugu. Fugu is grilled on a net like yakiniku (BBQ). By lightly grilling, fresh Torafugu that can be eaten raw becomes plump and springy texture. They offer 4 flavors of seasoning: salt, garlic, Tare, Gejang, and you can choose three from them. This style by Yome-teppo has become extremely popular since it appeared in Osaka 29 years ago. At last, the fifth, Nakameguro store opened last year in Tokyo after Osaka and Kanazawa. Course menus and a la carte are basically the same in all restaurants, but exclusive sommelier selects wines that fits Fugu dishes in Nakameguro store. You can enjoy the pairing of “Fugu dish with Italian wines.”
Yaki Fugu. Fillet 3,700 yen (excluding tax). It is recommended to order as course meal to enjoy popular a la carte together.
Popular Yume Course available at only Nakameguro store. There are Sakizuke (starter), Fugu Butsu (chopped Fugu), Fugu fin soup, Yaki Fugu (uwami, totomi), salad (free for the second), Fugu Kara-age, Fugu Chazuke (tea on rice), and dessert. 9,800 yen per person (excluding tax). Available from one person (photo is for 2 people).
Fugu Butsu (chunks of fresh raw Fugu): wrapped with Chinese leaf and dip in oroshi-ponzu (ponzu vinegar with grated radish) sauce to eat. It has a refreshing texture when you put it into your mouth with fresh crispy Chinese leaf.
Nakameguro store with a hideaway atmosphere. The stylish interior completed with table seats, counter seats, and private rooms.
Nakameguro store’s private room where the sofa makes you feel comfortable with no hesitation. It's good for a date, isn’t it?
Nakameguro store’s counter seats. Specially selected seats make you feel comfortable.
●GranDuo Nakameguro B1F, 1-25-13, Aobadai, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
●Closed on Sundays and National Holidays
●8-minute walk from Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line / Tokyu Nakameguro Station
“Yaki Fugu Yume-teppo Uehonmachi main store”
●Evergreen Uehonmachi 1F, 12-15, Obasecho, Tennoji-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka
●No scheduled holidays
●7-minute walk from Kintetsu Osaka Line Osaka Uehonmachi Station / Osaka Kanjo Line Tsuruhashi Station
“Yaki Fugu Yume-teppo Kitashinchi store”
●Dohama Annex 1F, 1-4-7, Dojima, Kita-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka
●Closed on Sundays and National holidays
●5-minute from JR Tozai Line Kitashinchi Station
Summary of Fugu
Fugu has the image that it is too expensive to eat or dangerous because it is poisonous. Has that image changed? In Shimonoseki of Yamaguchi that is the area of lifting a ban on Fugu, there is the “Haedomari Market” which is the only special market of Fugu in Japan, and it handles Japan's largest amount of Fugu. When the Fugu season in September begins every year, the auction of Fugu that collected from all over the country is reported in the news. The Fugu season has arrived this year again. Although Fugu is now able to be tasted all year round, please enjoy the unique deliciousness of the best season.
(The cooperation of collecting data about Fugu: International Fugu Association)
*The above information was last updated September 3, 2018. For further information, please contact the facilities directly.
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