Eating a Pufferfish

On my second day in Osaka, I was strolling through the Kuromon market for a bite to eat. I was quite disappointed because I came a bit too late and realized this was more a morning-sorta-market. Vendors were cleaning away their fish scales and other leftover sea-critter carcasses while others were still hoping to sell their remaining produce of the day by hollering at passerby’s in soprano.

My stomach growled as I anxiously searched for any hopes of some well-prepared food. One shop after another rejected me and my broken japanese request for “please feed me I’m hungry.” It was 5pm and no-one was selling early dinner. Despite the lack of available shops and restaurants, large crowds of people were still strolling the Kuromon market, probably for the same reason as me. I mean, a market is a place for food right? Not a fresh market I have now learned.

Furthermore, slow people really annoy me. I began to get irritated by the crowd of i (eye)-phone-glued pedestrians and spiky selfie sticks that tend to be the ultimate reason of pedestrian traffic. Street entertainers are also to blame. I’m not hating, but street performers should also be cautious of where to perform. And no doubt, I was starving and not in the mood for congregation. So I escaped from the herd by finally finding and entering a restaurant which I thought would sell regular Japanese food. However, my faulty instincts landed me in a pleasant surprise.  A pufferfish restaurant! Da-da-da-dummmmmmmm! This is judgement day.  11887972_952220078175468_7092567616305083178_n

Eating pufferfish is probably the most bad-ass thing you can do with the lowest risk of looking like a complete fool. Pufferfish is a delicacy that can only be enjoyed through the preparation from a well-trained chef, who knows how to remove the right areas of the fish that contains deadly neuro-toxins (Tetrodotoxin). These are mainly the ovaries, liver and skin.

Interestingly, the name Tetrodotoxin is derived from the order of species that this toxin can be found. However, the animals themselves that we generally believe yield this toxin actually do not produce it at all. Tetrodotoxin is actually produced by certain symbiotic bacteria, such as Pseudoalteromonas tetraodonis, certain species of Pseudomonas and Vibrio, as well as some others that reside WITHIN these animals. This is why concentrations of the toxins varies among the fishes throughout different seasons. Additionally, farmers are able to produce toxin-free pufferfishes by growing them in culture and on a restricted diet. Unless they are fed tissues from a toxin-producing fish, they can remain sterile of any deadly toxins. COOOL!

11896152_952220084842134_5641952994826950230_nAnywho, I proceeded with my order at the restaurant. I went for the full pufferfish menu which came in three parts. First was the sliced pufferfish meat (muscles) displayed sashimi style, topped with a fresh garlicky-springonion-lemon sauce. To describe this sensation, pufferfish meat is very similar in taste and texture to squid. It’s not soft as what you imagine a fish to be. Its surprisingly very chewy and rubbery, with very little taste, very much like an uncooked squid. I guess I would have not enjoyed it so much if it did not come with the amazing herb-topping. I would give it a 2.5/5 stars, because I had very high expectations for this creature and it disappointed me. I give the dish an extra-half star for the good choice of herbs to go with it.

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Following this dish came the hot-pot moment. At this point I came to realize that this set menu constituted elements of the entire fish. This next part, I had a dish with several bones, meat, a jelly-like skin piece, and another unidentified body part served alongside a some soup-veggies. I propped them all into the pot and watched it boil into something quite delightful. It was scrumptious! Oh how much I love broths! The perfect variety of my favorite broth veggies (Carrot, celery, cabbage) and my two favorite mushrooms (king oyster and Enoki) were also there to accompany and ameliorate my pufferfish experience. This dish was no doubt A+-mazing! The skin of the pufferfish was very gelatinous, which wasn’t too pleasant in my opinion. But pufferfish skin is a very good source of type 1 collagen so gulp it down sista! And may your skin radiate from within.

Now that I have graciously stuffed myself, I couldn’t wait to see what there was for dessert. The waitress came by and asked if we were ready for the next dish? Rubbing my hands together I knew I was in for a nice treat. Then she returned, pushing trolley next to our table. On the trolley, I saw utensils that was definitely not involved in dessert making. Shit, more food!? On the tray laid a large bowl of rice, a basket of seasoning bottles, two eggs and a large spatula. She did not removed nor turned off the fire of the cooking pot bubbling in the center of our table because it was going to be incorporated into our next dish. She bowed as she excused herself to get closer to our table. In another bowl, she mixed some soyasauce, pepper, and what looked like vinegar or mirin. She poured this into our leftover broth and stirred. She then bowed to us and took a small sampling sip from our pot. Contemplating the flavor, and humming to herself she turned and added a bit more soyasauce and said “hai!”. Then offered us a taste too. Not sure what I was getting myself into this time, I nodded and said “oishi!”.

She then poured the rice into the soup and in another bowl, she whisked the eggs until smooth and poured it into the pot in a circular motion. What she has now summoned before our own eyes was rice-porridge with egg in pufferfish broth!  Using what we cooked into the soup earlier, this newly created dish was amazingly comforting! And I really liked how the flavors from our previous session seasoned the broth so nicely and nothing was wasted. This experience was definitely 5/5. Yes pufferfish, you have not disappointed me this time.

For dessert I had a delicious ball of maple icecream with chunks of almonds. YUUUUMZZ~! That day was a great day.

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