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?
I’m still in Bangkok but yet to eat really good Thai food (a theme for all my trips out here), at lunchtime yesterday it was an international buffet (reasonable sushi though) and the night before we ate at the No Weapons bar in the previous post (where we ordered the most thai of the dishes, it was pretty good).
Yesterday we dropped hints to our customer all day, at the buffet we were saying things like “hmm this is nice but I’m looking forward to trying some real thai food tonight” etc etc. As the seminar finished and we left for the restaurant I said to the customer “so now we will go for thai food?” “yes, yes” he says. We got beers at first and chatted about the day, then the food started arriving, ducks tongue, qingcai etc, “errr, these are very nice” I said, “very similar to Chinese food”, “oh yes” he said, “this is a chinese restaurant”.
The same thing happened on one of my previous trips, I was here for a day and it transpired that my hotel was in Chinatown, not a thai restaurant in sight, I got a taxi out to a “thai” restaurant and was presented with a menu which had the usual omelette, steak and chips, burger etc (although on a subsequent trip we went to the same restaurant and they gave my customer a completely different menu with all the thai food on, it seems like they instantly assume that foreigners can’t take thai food and give them a foreign menu).
The next day on the trip I met my distributor and we travelled to Khon Kaen, I explained my predicament, “don’t worry” he said, “I know an excellent restaurant there which serves local food”, “GREAT” I said. We met the customer, things went very well and he insisted on taking us to dinner, sure enough when we arrived it was called something like “American Cafe”.
The Grand Palace, Bangkok
Guards at the Palace, childishly ignoring me
If we’d taken the guide I would probably know something interesting about these
Tall Guard Dudes
Male building, replete with antlers
To be honest, I’ve been to temples in Bangkok before (Wat Pho etc) and once you’ve seen a couple you’ve seen them all, it was nice like, but ultimately really boring, they need to spice these places up a bit, you know, living statues, those mirrors that make you look an odd shape, water slides, bumper cars, that kind of thing, a laser show maybe?
Anyway, we took the boat back to the hotel, the best way to travel in Bangkok. They run a bit like buses, you wait at the pier (having completely ignored the touts who tell you that you need to buy tickets at the “special stand” which cost about 5 quid each), jump on a boat, pay the conductor about 30p and hop off when you think you’re somewhere close to where you need to be (or, in our case, about 10 stops too early).
At the pier there’s a large food market, as per usual this is where I had the best food of the trip, actually, thinking about it, street food is normally the culinary highlight of any trip in Asia:
Spicy Fried Chicken, kind of Thai KFC but without the pointy beard and white suit. 17p a stick
Too much selection at this stall, I spent 5 minutes deciding and left with nothing, let this be a lesson to them!
Minced Pork Cakes – 17p a go
Sticky coconut rice with banana centre – free! (my colleague bought two and gave me one)
Actually, last night, we did eventually get some thai food, after a few hints we finally received a steaming bowl of Tom Yum Goong. It was delicious but so hot that I got hiccups after the first mouthful. I had 4 bowls… Sure enough I was on the throne at 5:30am this morning (and again at 5:45, 6:00, 6:15 etc etc), I don’t want to go into much detail, but lets say they were lava-hot and in a big rush to get in the water, thankfully the pyrocrastic flow subsided by 8 am (check out time).