Fugu is a Japanese dish prepared from the meat of pufferfish (normally species of Takifugu, Lagocephalus, or Sphoeroides) or porcupinefish of the genus Diodon. Because pufferfish is lethally poisonous if prepared incorrectly, fugu has become one of the most celebrated and notorious dishes in Japanese cuisine.
While fugu connoisseurs love the taste and the texture of the fugu, many people actually find it rather bland and tasteless. Some professional chefs prepare the fish so that there is a minute amount of poison in the meat, giving a prickling feeling and numbness on the tongue and the lips.
Pufferfish contains lethal amounts of the poison tetrodotoxin in the internal organs, especially the liver and gonads, and also the skin. Therefore, only specially licensed chefs can prepare and sell fugu to the public, and the consumption of the liver and ovaries is forbidden. But because small amounts of the poison give a special desired sensation on the tongue, these parts are considered the most delicious by some gourmets. Every year a number of people die because they underestimate the amount of poison in the consumed fish parts. The poison paralyzes the muscles while the victim stays fully conscious, and eventually dies from asphyxiation. There is currently no antidote, and the standard medical approach is to try to support the respiratory and circulatory system until the effect of the poison wears off. However, because tetrodotoxin binds irreversibly to sodium channels, the "wearing off" requires new cell growth.
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Photo taken in 1 Chome Haginochaya, Nishinari Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture, Japan
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