Fugu: The World’s Most Dangerous Food

One of the all time classic episodes of The Simpsons is one in which Homer Simpson experiences for the first time the delight of Japanese cuisine. All goes well until he makes this particular demand of the waiter: “Fugu me!” After eating blowfish that was prepared by an associate chef-the head chef was outside enjoying the, er, instructional abilities of elementary schoolteacher Mrs. Krabappel. Because blowfish must be expertly prepared, one ends the meal either thoroughly sated or, well, dead. Homer goes through an existential crisis upon finding out that he may have less than 24 hours to survive. As Homer muses when thinking about how trying something new turned out less than completely satisfying, “I never heard of a poisoned pork chop!”

All fun aside, however, fugu can technically be called the most dangerous food alive. Or, well, dead. Fugu is the name given to prepared blowfish. Sometimes known as puffer fish. In a sense, a night out for fugu is sort of like the Russian roulette of eating. In fact, if you are one of those personalities who enjoy things like base jumping, scuba-less deep diving and watching Joan Rivers, then fugu is just the food experience you’ve been waiting for. Like all those things, there is always just the slightest bit of risk of death involved. Or, at least serious bodily harm.

The ovaries, roe and liver of the blowfish all contain a certain toxin which can be quite lethal. Just consuming a tiny drop of this toxin pretty much guarantees some kind of paralysis and, in extreme cases, can leave you pushing up daisies. Boy, if just hearing that doesn’t make you want to go out right now and order fugu, I just don’t know what’s wrong with you. The really scary part is that all it takes is one tiny little slip of the knife during preparation to get that toxin into the parts you eat.

Eating fugu is such a potentially dangerous proposition that it is almost never actually prepared at home in Japan. One is tempted to say that it is absolutely never served, but we all know no matter how dangerous something may be there is somebody somewhere dumb enough to try it, right? In Japan, chefs must apprentice for seven years before they are trusted with the risks of preparing fugu. (You know, if you keep saying fugu over and over it really loses all meaning).

Great precautions are taken to protect diners against becoming victims of fugu. Although most do wind up like real life Homer Simpsons-turns out he didn’t eat the poisonous parts, after all-the fact remains that the single greatest cause of food poisoning is Japan isn’t caused by eating contaminated chicken salad at picnics, but rather by consuming ill-prepared fugu. In fact, dozens of Japanese diners-and, alas, many foreign tourists-die each year due to eating the toxins inherent in blowfish.

The good news is that Japanese scientists-fresh from successfully cloning Godzilla-are working hard on coming up with a non-toxic variety of fugu. Of course, this poses several interesting problems. For one thing, will the non-toxic version retain the same taste as the toxic version? But even more importantly than that is the question of whether people will really even care about fugu once the danger is removed. After all, it’s rather difficult to imagine that most people put their lives on the line to eat a $150 blowfish because of the incredible taste. I mean, isn’t the thing mostly made of air? At any rate, most people use the same word to describe the taste of fugu: bland. Is certainly doesn’t rank up there with less risky Japanese seafood dishes in terms of taste. Surely, the popularity of this delicacy resides almost entirely in the fact that at any moment during consumption of it one could die.

In fact, it has been estimated the poison in just one blowfish could kill at least thirty people. Who wouldn’t get the thrill of a lifetime by facing down such a deathly little fish and coming up alive? Those scientists in Japan are probably wasting their time. Just as the little villages that dot the coast around Loch Ness would probably shrivel up and die were an actual monster ever to be discovered, the popularity of fugu would go right down the drain if the danger were removed.

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