Something I missed from my Korea trip a few weeks ago, we went to a Pufferfish restaurant during my stay (and survived!).
Pufferfish (bok in korean, fugu in japanese), in case you don’t know, are the second most poisonous verterbrates (some fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds) in the world. Certain parts of the fish are highly toxic when eaten, the fish have to be prepared by specially trained chefs who know which bits to cut out (particularly the ovaries and liver, but the skin is also up there). They contain a substance called tetrodotoxin which basically completely paralyses you, it’s the substance voodoo witch doctors use to create zombies. If you ingest a lethal amount of the tetrodotoxin there’s a 50-80% chance you’ll die within the next 4 – 24 hours, but if you can make it to 24 hours there’s a high chance you’ll pull through, there is no known cure/antidote.. Things have improved a lot though, in 1958 176 people died in Japan from eating pufferfish, but things have now much improved due to understanding over which bits should not be eaten, only 23 people were hospitalised in Japan between 1993 and 2006 and only one of them was from eating in a restaurant, the rest were fisherman eating their catch. (source – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugu and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetraodontidae).
Anyway, we went into the restaurant above and sat down, then I noticed the odd looking fish in the tanks, “and what are they exactly??” I said. “pufferfish” replied my colleague, “the poisonous fish??” “err yeah, you’ll be fine..” if I’d known the bit above about how low the risks are (in fact some people are breeding non-poisonous pufferfish now, I’m not sure about the pufferfish I ate) then I needn’t have worried, but I can tell you, at the time, I picked through my chunks of pufferfish like a I was defusing a bomb and made an unscheduled trip to the bathroom before eating to consult the interweb (I concluded it was safe to try a little bit).
The pufferfish came in a delicious salty soup, note the fins and skin are attached (low on the poison scale), the poisonous barbs have been scraped out.
Normally when confronted with food like this (roast scorpion kebabs in china) my reaction is that people don’t actually enjoy eating them, they’re just eating them to show off in some way, for the shock value. But to be fair the pufferfish meat was delicious, quite meaty compared to something like cod, like most new things you’d probably say it tastes a little bit chickeny or froggy. Still, is it really worth the effort and risk?