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You are in: Features: "(photo story) Eating FUGU."

(photo story) Eating FUGU. By: Nick May

Fugu: Japanese Blowfish.

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.

So after 10 years of resisting "doing the FUGU thing" I finally succumbed to temptation. The best fugu in all Japan is said to be in Shimonoskei, a city an hours drive from Fukuoka just across the Kanmon straights in Honshu.

The fugu "set" consists of parts of a single fish (in principle at least) 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.)

This picture shows the first course: Fugusashi

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Top centre is the fugu itself, translucent, delicate strips of fish as thin as leaves arranged around part of the fish's skin. The dark item in the centre of the plate is the fin or hire (pronounced "hi" as in "his", "re" as in "red". ) Centre right is a glass of ume-shu a sweet plum spirit. On the top right is a dish of thin stalks of negi, with the kabosu- a kind of lemon. Finely chopped spring-onion is beside it. This will be mixed with the sujouyu, a kind of soy sauce with vinegar. The three smaller dishes below contain, from left to right, other parts of the fish, a tasty little jelly of egg and crab and on the right, some small pieces of tai (sea bream). The ubiquitous pot of hot green tea is on the left. 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.

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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.

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Not, I hasten to add, completely and vulgarly immersed as our picture shows, but dipped daintily before being moved swiftly to the mouth. I won't attempt 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 of the truly adult pleasures and revivifies even the most jaded palate.

The skin of the fugu (again, raw) is quite chewy but surprisingly tasty. Hidden beneath the skin in our photograph are various other organs into which I did not enquire too closely, 'though I think it was the ovaries. The fin can be dipped in hot Japanese sake to make "hirezake" - we took our's home to do just that.

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

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This is various other parts of the fish, some meat, some crunchy bone, deep fried with a few vegetables.

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.

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In the picture you can see a range of vegetables with the the fugu in the bottom quarter of the plate, beneath the lemon. On the right of it is "mochi" - small glutenous cakes of pulped rice. This is placed in the boiling water for a few minutes until cooked then transferred to one'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.

The view from the window over the Kanmon straits to Kyushu.

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Discreet inquiries indicated that the meal had cost around 6000 yen apiece, which at current exchange rates is 30 pounds sterling.

It is possible to eat fugu at a range of places in Fukuoka, sometimes for rather less, but if you have the opportunity to eat it at a good restaurant in Shimonoseki we recommend you make the trip.

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