Health agency puts kibosh on long-running game of culinary Russian Roulette.

On 15 January it was reported that a supermarket in Gamagori City, Aichi Prefecture sold six packs of fugu (pufferfish) filets containing the fish’s liver as well. The sale of fugu organs is prohibited by law because they contain poisons such as tetrodotoxin, which paralyses its victim, causing death from being unable to breathe while still conscious.

As horrifying as that sounds, fugu is still widely enjoyed in Japan for the texture of its meat as long as it is prepared carefully by a licensed chef.

In the case of Super Tatsuya in Gamagori, five packs of fugu intended for simmering and boiling had been sold until one customer noticed that a liver was mixed in with the meat.

▼ The Gamagori Super Tatsuya

A health alert was issued and officials, along with the supermarket staff, tried to track down the packs that were already sold. Eventually all but two have been recovered and the media warned anyone in the area to avoid eating fugu at all costs until the issue was dealt with.

Initially, it was reported that the liver was “mistakenly” mixed in with the regular fugu meat. However, when interviewed by reporters, the manager of Super Tatsuya revealed, “We’ve been selling [fugu liver] for decades up to now. There hasn’t been a single poisoning or any incident.”

Although the logic often employed by drunk drivers seemed to satisfy this food vendor, the public at large was less accepting of it.

“Oh? Well, no problem then… jackass.”
“For decades?!”
“This stupid old man is messed up.”
“Saying it’s been okay until now? That isn’t a reason.”
“Even if the guy is personally sure it’s safe, its still illegal.”
“Hey grandpa, how about you eat it then?”
“I wonder if this place even has a license.”

However, there were also those who came to the defense of Super Tatsuya saying that the specific type of fugu used, the yorito-fugu (blunthead puffer), does not have poison in its liver. For a long time the yorito-fugu was said to be completely non-toxic and all of its parts were freely eaten, but a 2006 study found some traces of poison in its liver causing it to be banned from sale.

Fugu liver in general is something of a forbidden fruit in the Japanese seafood world. Those who have tried it (and lived) praise its texture and flavor, causing more adventurous gourmands to find ways to detoxify or at least simulate it. Given this, perhaps the two unrecovered packs of fugu in Gamagori weren’t returned because their buyers actually knew exactly what they had and just didn’t want to give it back.

What this boils down to is either a case of an old crank selling potentially bio-hazardous material to the unknowning public or a folk hero defying a overbearing government to provide tasty liver to those who want it…or more likely a bit of both.

With all the varieties of puffer fish out there and their varying degrees of danger, even seasoned fishermen can get mixed up from time to time. So, if you want to experience the taste of these fish yourself, be sure to choose your source wisely.

Source: TV Asahi News, Hachima Kiko, With News, Okinawa Prefecture
Top image: Wikipedia/NOAA