Japanese Food: Why do people eat fugu if it is so dangerous?

January 6, 2016

 

 Fugu, Pastel drawing by Chef Kaz Matsune

 

(originally posted on Quora.com)

 

Contrary to popular myth in The US (and perhaps other countries as well), no one dies from eating Fugu.

Eating Fugu does not automatically mean death sentence like Homer Simpson experienced in the famous Simpson’s Fugu episode.

 

I feel that the Fugu myth in the US is very similar to the one of shark - every shark in the ocean will attack and eat any human being it sees - the myth, thanks to the movies as Jaws and many overly- hyped “Shark Week” documentaries portraying the great white shark as dangerous man-eating fish.

 

Most sharks are harmless to humans. Out of more than 470 species, only four have been involved in a significant number of fatal, unprovoked attacks on humans.

 

According to International Shark Attack File (ISAF), the average number of fatalities worldwide per year between 2001 and 2006 from unprovoked shark attacks is 4.3. (source wiki.)

 

Your chance of getting in car accident is higher than being attacked by a shark.

So, how many people die from eating Fugu each year in Japan?

 

The answer is 0. Yep, zero, zip nada - at least in the year 2013 and 2012.

 

There is one death in 2011. In fact from 2004 - 2013, there are only 12 deaths associated with eating fugu in Japan. (source: Tokyo Public Health Department 危険がいっぱい ふぐの素人料理|「食品衛生の窓」東京都福祉保健局)

 

That's definitely smaller than 1,800 deaths from foodborne diseases each year in the United States. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) In fact, more people died from eating raw oysters in US - thirty six deaths between 1999 and 2000. (source: FDA)

 

Indeed, Fugu is poisonous - its skin and liver contain poison lethal to humans if consumed. Therefore, it requires careful preparation for safe human consumption.

 

In Japan, one must obtain government certification to fillet Fugu. First, one must be a licensed chef for at least five years before applying for Fugu certification. The certification process involves a few years of rigorous training and testing. Because of this, it is very safe to eat Fugu.

 

The myth of automatic death sentence come from the fact that many non-certified people prepared it by themselves before Japanese government established the certification system.

 

In the United States, the myth is also due to many articles such as "Dining With Death: Fugu at Sushi Zen." These articles sensationalize writer’s personal Fugu eating experience, describing their feeling that they may die tomorrow because they eat "the deadly fish, “ which again, is far from the truth. After all, how could they live to write the article if Fugu is so letal?

 

Almost all Japanese never associate eating Fugu to automatic death. Fugu is widely served at restaurants throughout Japan. (again, with no single death in 2012 and 2013.)

 

Going to a Fugu restaurant is as casual as going to any other restaurants in Japan. Perhaps only in America, many consider it as "lethal" despite it's safety.

 

If you want to taste Fugu, there are some restaurants in American that serve the fish. It is either prepared by a certified chef at a restaurant or most likely, already fillet in Japan and air shipped for safe consumption.

 

Either way, Fugu is a delicious fish - raw or cooked. Thinly sliced sashimi has a sweet flavor and goes well with ponzu sauce. My favorite is kara-age (deep-fried). Sushi is also good. Most popular dish is Fugu Nabe (pot/soup) - a winter favorite in Japan.

 

So, if you are curious and find out, I dare you to eat Fugu. It's delicious, fun and most of all, safe dining experience!

 

Best of all, I guarantee you will live to tell about it.

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