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When I visit a foreign land, I like to compare how their burgers and fries fare against what I’m accustomed to eating back at home. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine to silently judge how another country's burgers are not at the same level as the ones in the good ol’ U.S. of A. But the story I want to tell you isn’t about my burger quest. It's about something much deadlier than cholesterol and saturated fats.
Since I’ve started my traveling adventure in 2008, I’ve tried a wide range of exotic and truly weird foods. I’ve tried deep-fried tarantulas in Cambodia, freshwater eels and snails in Indonesia, stinky tofu (that’s the actual name) in Taiwan and buffalo-dick soup in Malaysia. The best part about trying these street foods is that they will most likely not kill you. This is not true for the infamous Fugu.
For those of you who don’t know, Fugu means pufferfish in Japanese. Apparently, eating Fugu is for the adventurous and the bored-of-living. Only the best-trained chefs and staff are legally allowed to handle and serve this underwater balloon of a fish. The restaurant's menu explained in English that they have never poisoned anybody with their Fugu dishes until now (I later found out that they mean to date.) After reading on, I learned that if I became their luckly #1, I had to waive my rights to sue the establishment. This was not reassuring but I decided to just soldier on.
But what is it exactly that makes Fugu so deadly? Well, unlike the lionfish whose venom is found only in its spines, Fugu neurotoxin can be found in its innards. In fact, there is enough residual toxin to cause paralysis, obstruct breathing and kill you within 60 minutes. With a history of killing people when consumed, you’d think that humans would evolve to avoid the fish at all costs. but the opposite is true. In fact, the Fugu population has seen a rapid decline due to over-fishing over the last few decades.
The process to become a Fugu-preparing chef is a long and tedious one. You have to undergo at least three-years of training (two of them working under a Fugu certified chef) and final examination to make sure that you have the skills to prepare an edible Fugu dish. Here's a piece of trivia for you: only 30% of the students pass, meaning that 70% of them could possibly commit manslaughter.
A portion of Fugu sashimi can cost you between ¥2,000 and ¥20,000 (roughly between $20 and $200). The restaurant I visited wasn’t the best joint but it was among the upper echelon of restaurants in the city. After ordering the sashimi and waiving my right for vengeance, the waitress brought out the dish. It was arranged in a pretty flower-pattern on a large plate beside various sauces and other things I didn’t know I ordered.
I could hardly wait to try this murderous fish for the first and maybe last time. I fumbled around with the chopsticks and put the sliver of Fugu meat in my mouth. Quite honestly, I was underwhelmed. The risk factor of the dish is definitely the only selling point because it was just a rubbery, unpleasant experience. However, I must say that the seasoning was excellent, and I managed to eat the whole thing with the help of the dipping sauces.