The puffer fish in nature contains various amounts of a neurotoxin, tetrodotoxin. This accumulates in the fish from other sources particularly specific bacteria. It concentrates in the liver, ovaries and skin. In Japan all restaurants serving Fugu have specially licensed chefs who have been accredited after rigorous training. There maybe some toxin deliberately left on the meat as this causes a tingling sensation on the lips and tongue and for the connoisseur is sort. Deaths from Fugu sashimi ingestion in Japan are very low and its considered a safe food. Recently a toxin free program has been successfully implemented using farmed Fugu. These never come into contact with the neurotoxin producing bacteria.

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Osaka: The last piece of fugu sashimi bought from a vendor in Kuromon (Black Gate Market) served with ponzu shoyu (citrus vinegar soy sauce), scallion (negi), salted plum paste (umeboshi) and a chrysanthemum (funeral flower)
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Eating Fugu. By: Nick May

What's the appeal of Fugu? It's not the flavour, surely for that's a delicate affair, nor the price (6000yen or so for a set meal) for there are certainly better value fish. But there is something indefinably romantic about eating a dish raw that, if prepared poorly, will lead to a slow and agonising death. In a world of overpackaged, overprocessed food in which the greatest danger is of getting run over outside the supermarket or eating something that's lurked too long in the fridge, the thought of deliberately tackling something meltingly fresh and potentially lethal brings a lost eroticism back to the act of eating.  The best fugu in all Japan is said to be in Shimonoskei.

The fugu "set" consists of parts of a single fish  prepared in three different ways, as Fugusashi (translucent delicate strips of raw fish), Fugu-no-karaage (other parts of the fish deep fried) and fuguchiri (eaten nabe style with vegetables.)

Fugusashi is, translucent, delicate strips of fish as thin as leaves arranged around part of the fish's skin. It is generally served with the fin or hire,  ume-shu a sweet plum spirit.  A dish of thin stalks of negi, with the kabosu, a kind of lemon and finely chopped spring-onion. This will be mixed with the sujouyu, a kind of soy sauce with vinegar and other parts of the fish, a tasty little jelly of egg and crab and on the right, some small pieces of tai (sea bream) and the ubiquitous pot of hot green tea. Needless to say the fish is "fresh", a term that refers to moments dead, not hours.

One generally starts with the most delicate part of the fish.

After the sauce has been prepared with the spring onions and spices, a stalk or two of "negi" is placed on a translucent leaf of fish and the fish rolled tightly around it. This can be a little tricky even for those otherwise dexterous in the use of o-hashi (chopsticks).

From the plate it is introduced into the shouyu dipped daintily before being moved swiftly to the mouth. It's difficult to describe the delicate flavour and texture of the fish as it melts around the negi stalk in the gentle astringency of the shoyou, but it is one othat revivifies even the most jaded palate.

The skin of the fugu (again, raw) is quite chewy but surprisingly tasty. The fin can be dipped in hot Japanese sake to make "hirezake" along with the ovaries.

As the Fugu-sashi is being consumed the fugu-no-karaage is brought to the table.

The penultimate course is the "Fugu-chiri" - essentially fugu nabe, fish and vegetables cooked at the table in boiling water in which "konbu" (a seaweed) has boiled for a few minutes to provide a stock base made with a range of vegetables, the fugu and some  lemon.  "Mochi" - small glutinous cakes of pulped rice are placed in the boiling water for a few minutes until cooked then transferred to the diner's plate, from which it is eaten.

Of course, no meal in Japan is complete without rice. After the fish and vegetables are consumed cooked rice is added to the by now very rich stock that remains in the nabe-dish, a raw egg or two introduced and the mixture stirred for a few moments as it becomes a rich rice broth.

The meal finishes with melon and tea.