So now three Japanese diners have been hospitalized, and one of them is still in critical condition with respiratory failure, from eating fugu.
For those of you unfamiliar with this particular culinary item, "fugu" is grilled Japanese blowfish. The three diners in question deliberately consumed one of the most dangerous parts, the blowfish's testicles.
I wish I were making this up. Apparently fugu is considered a delicacy, a word that should immediately raise your suspicion level. In my opinion, the word "delicacy" is used only to describe food that, under normal circumstances, would never be consumed by anyone who was not participating in a fraternity initiation. Other foods I've heard described as delicacies are hakarl (Icelandic fermented shark meat, which is described as having "a very strong ammonia-like taste"), durian (a southeast Asian fruit whose smell is so evil that it is now illegal in many countries to cut one open in hotels or on public transportation), and lutefisk (a Norwegian fish product produced by soaking the fish in lye; it is served with a mustard sauce that informed sources tell me "smells exactly like vomit").
Of course, the preceding three examples only put you in danger of tossing your cookies, or perhaps having your friends and family seriously question your sanity. Fugu adds the frisson of possibly killing you. It is the Russian roulette of delicacies.
Me, I don't really see the appeal. Maybe fugu tastes really great, I don't know. The point is, so does dark chocolate, and you're not risking paralysis, coma, and death from eating it. Still, I'm sure that people will continue to eat fugu, and people will continue to die -- last year, 44 people were hospitalized with blowfish poisoning, and three of them died.
In Japan, you have to have a special license to prepare fugu. Apparently, if you prepare it correctly, it greatly decreases the likelihood that you'll die. The poison, tetrodotoxin, is one hundred times more poisonous than potassium cyanide. It is a sodium channel blocker, and as a result paralyzes the muscles, including the heart and diaphragm -- all the while leaving you conscious and aware of the fact that you're dying. It is only found in particular tissues in the fish, and all of those tissues have to be scrupulously removed in order for the fugu to be safe to eat. You can imagine, with something that toxic, it doesn't take much of a mistake to kill you -- it's difficult to be sure you've got every last tiny scrap of the poisonous tissue. Evidently the cook who served the dish to the trio last week didn't have a "fugu license," and had missed some of the toxic parts. As a result, the three began to lose feeling in their extremities, had trouble breathing, and finally lost consciousness.
My question is, why would you take a chance like that? I like risk as well as the next guy, but I'm perfectly happy exercising that part of my personality by scuba diving and riding rollercoasters. I'm not so much interested in eating the Toxic Testicles of Death. Given the choice, I'll stick with dark chocolate.