Pufferfish, aka Fugu in Japanese, might put some off. After all, the poisonous fish did have a dodgy history when prepared under the hands of inexperienced or unlicensed chefs – the fish’s toxins took the lives of a number who sought to try it out. Surely, some diners became more cautious after Tokyo relaxed its permit in serving Fugu in October 2012.
Nevertheless, this “deadly” fish is still highly sought after in Japan. Would you try it for the thrill of putting your life in the hands of the chef, essentially a bet on your life vs the fish? Or simply because you think it’s tasty?
Till today, there’s quite some misunderstanding on Fugu. Not all Fugu are poisonous and different species of Fugu has different edible parts. The ones that carry too much deadly toxins are banned by the Japanese government, so surely you wouldn’t be biting into those in proper restaurants.
Two Typical Fugus
There are two typical Fugu that are served in sushi shops or restaurants – the Shirosaba Fugu (白鯖河豚) and the Tora Fugu (虎河豚).
Shirosaba Fugu, distinguished by its shimmery golden skin, is considered to be the cheap fugu. It’s probably the only fugu that is completely non-poisonous. You can eat its meat (筋肉), skin (皮) and the milt (精巣／白子).
Tora Fugu, aka Tiger Fugu, is distinguished by its yellow and grey spots. It’s nickname is Teppo (鉄砲), meaning guns in English. This is known as the prestigious, expensive Fugu and it’s quite poisonous. Yet, it’s definitely not the “most poisonous” fugu (unlike what was written in Wikipedia). It’s eyes and skin are particularly poisonous, its meat and milt are however edible.
Farmed and Wild Fugu
Most of the Fugu are farmed. Why? Because farmers could have more control on the Fugu’s diet which has a direct relation to its toxin content. Wild Fugu tends to eat a lot of microorganisms which toxins they have immunity to. But their immunity doesn’t apply to humans, which explains its deadliness when incorrectly prepared for consumption.
Slicing up a Fugu involve a complicated procedure. It would take at least over 30 steps before you begin slicing up the meat into translucent pieces.
Review on Usukifugu Yamadaya
So much about Fugu and I should probably get back to business. This three star Fugu restaurant was a disappointing experience for me. I am not sure if I had the fish at the wrong timing – the best season to have Tora Fugu would be Autumn and Winter.
Fugu has a very chewy texture, slightly similar to hirame (halibut). You would dip the fish into the ponzu sauce, which unfortunately masks the original banal taste of the fish. You got to eat a few slice together in order to have a better taste on the fish. The best fugu dish that day would be the Fugu Miso Soup, you could actually taste the sweetness of the fish in the soup.
At Usukifugu Yamadaya, we had the dinner in a Japanese style cozy private room. We were quite happy with such arrangement as it gives us more space, but at the same time, the attendant has to come in and out to check on us which can feel a little pressurizing. But overall, they offer very attentive service.
There are 3 Fugu courses that ranges from 20,000 to 30,000yen, which are both quite similar as there’s only 2-3 items that were different. I went there with a friend so I thinking we could try different items instead of having the same thing. We requested to get some other menu for three times and finally the lady (unwillingly) gave us another kaiseki menu.
In the end, we ordered an Okoze (Rockfish オコゼ/虎魚, aka the “summer fugu”, also poisonous) Course and the 25,000 Fugu Course. The Okoze course is more like a typical kaiseki course and uses various ingredients.
Fugu reference books:
Usukifugu Yamadaya (臼杵ふぐ山田屋)
Tel: +81 50-5869-3721(Reservation), +81 3-3499-5501 (Inquiry)
Address: 東京都港区西麻布4-11-14 ＦＬＥＧ西麻布ＶＩＥＲＧＥ地階Ａ
Visited on: 9 August, 2013
Price: Dinner ￥18,000 – ￥30,000
Hours: Monday – Saturday 6:00pm – 11:30pm (closed on Sundays)
Restaurant started by: Yamada Asakiti(山田浅吉), now owned by the 3rd generation of Yamada