Oh, Delicious River Pig

If you’ve read all our posts up to this point you’re probably sick of us jabbering on about Japan’s many culinary delights. Well, prepare for more of the same, because this entry is dedicated to the greatest foodie experience we’ve had thus far in our travels.

As we’ve discussed, Japan has no shortage of seafood. Within the ever-so-broad spectrum of edible marine life lies an adorable-looking fish that can, if ill-prepared, cause a person to become paralyzed while staying fully conscious, eventually dying from asphyxiation. Perfect, we thought. Let’s do this.

On our nightly sojourns, we routinely passed a particularly charming fugu restaurant. The kitchen was run by a father/son duo, both fully licensed to prepare and serve the potentially deadly pufferfish. The chefs wore crisp, white coats and carried themselves in a friendly yet almost doctoral manner. Their certificate of authenticity hangs proudly on the wall by the entrance; funny how a framed piece of paper, written in kanji, gave us the confidence to put our lives in the hands of two strangers who spoke a only a few words in English. We figured that since it takes years to earn a license to prepare and sell fugu the proprieters of this shop probably take the whole thing pretty seriously.

 As it turns out, fugu is delicious. I mean, really delicious. The chefs prepared the delicacy in various styles over several courses with artistic finesse and a hypersensitive attention-to-detail.

We started with fugu-sashi which is basically fugu sashimi served with a sour citrus sauce, chives, and grated white radish. As we ate, the chefs prepared the chiri – fugu sliced into chunks and then added to a pot of boiling water with vegetables, transparent noodles and later garnished with sauce, chives and peppers. Afterwards, the chiri broth is combined with salt, rice, and egg to make a porridge-like substance (they call it Fugu-zosui). I think there was a salad in there somewhere too.

We were full, contented, and dare I say a bit euphoric? We had asked around if we would be ingesting any of the poison because we had read that people inevitably receive trace amounts. This question always yielded laughs from the locals as if to say, “Of course not silly Americans.” Honestly, we sort of wanted a hint of toxicity. I recently read about a chef who purposely served his friend some of the fish with an extra punch of the poison just for fun. One side of his face went numb briefly and everyone had a good laugh. While that wasn’t our experience, our walk home felt unusually warm and fuzzy; and we don’t think it was the beer.