Fugu essay

Fugu essay, also posted to bloodinmytea
Fugu is the Japanese term for "Pufferfish," or "Bloatfish." Fugu also refers to a dish made of the meat from the fish, often served as a sashimi(raw, thinly sliced fish meat), or shabu-shabu(thin strips of meat cooked in hot broth by the consumer.)
So why is eating Fugu so celebrated, risky, and notorious? Because the pufferfish is lethally poisonous. Venom lies in the skin, and is highly concentrated in other organs such as the liver and ovaries. This venom is called tetrodotoxin. It is a paralytic, that disables movement throughout the body, while the victim is fully conscious, and dies of asphyxiation.
Because of this, only specially trained and lisenced chefs may prepare and sell fugu to the public. Several restaurants selling only fugu-based meals dot Japan, especially in the major cities such as Osaka and Tokyo.
Recently, a belief formed that the reason fugu fish are poisonous, is that they eat tetrodotoxin-filled bacteria, and that the fish have an immunity specified to carry the bacteria as well. Fugu farmers are now able to isolate the fish away from these bacteria, resulting in non-toxic fish for fugu chefs to buy.
The Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare keeps track of which species of fugu have organs and meat allowed for human consumption. In the years following WWII, fugu-serving restaurants did not keep track of how the fish remnants were disposed of. This resulted in many deaths of homeless. The remnants were thrown out like any other piece of garbage, insecurely. Trashpickers ate the toxic bits of fish, and this resulted in death.
Symptoms of fugu poisoning may be flu like, including nausea and headache. For about 70% of victims, death comes within the first 24 hrs. If taken to the hospital as soon as symptoms show, stomach pumps and respiratory support are the usual measures taken to keep the patient alive until the poisoning passes. Between 1993 and 2006, only 23 fugu poisoning incidents were recorded. Only one occurred from a restaurant, and the other 22 were of fishermen eating their own improperly prepared catch.
Famous fugu restaurants are Takefuku in the Ginza district of Tokyo, and Zuboraya is a popular chain in Osaka. Fugu is also eaten in South Korea, known as bok. As of 2003, only seventeen restaurants in the United States were licensed to serve fugu, twelve in New York. Sale of fugu is forbidden in the European Union.
A celebrated dish, once a killer, and now a delicacy.

Essay written 14 August 2008.
by yours truly.
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