Toxic Holiday

If you enjoy rollicking food writing, head over to New York magazine, where erstwhile restaurant critic Adam Platt travels to Tokyo to eat fugu. The resulting 5,000-word article is gonzo food journalism at its most pleasurable.

Fugu, as Platt tells us, is the highly poisonous blowfish prized in Japan for its fresh taste. Did we mention it is highly poisonous? A pinhead-size amount of the fish’s toxin can kill a grown man.

But Platt is determined to try the deadly delight, over his wife’s objections. Once in Tokyo, he hooks up with a guide/food writer (who previously steered Anthony Bourdain through his own encounter with fugu for his TV show) and sets off for a restaurant where he can indulge in fugu omakase. But not before sharing some history and lore with his readers. He covers everything from fugu on The Simpsons to how it is prepared:

First, the fins and tail of the fish are cut off, then an incision is made down the back, so that the skin can be peeled away, like a banana’s. Next, the poisonous entrails are removed and the head is cut in half so that the fugu’s eyes can be taken out, since they’re poisonous, too.

At the dinner, he is presented with dishes that take him increasingly outside of his comfort level. The thin shreds of raw fugu are mild and flavorless. The deep-fried fugu ribs are delicious but bony. Somewhere along the line, Platt’s lips begin to go numb and he panics. He can feel the poison advancing toward his lungs. Is the numbness real, or all in his head?

Finally, he has to face the biggest challenge of all: Fugu sperm sacs—“white as snow, bouncy to the touch, and disturbingly large, about the size of a pair of healthy water balloons.”

For adventurous eaters, the thrill of a new, cult food can make you feel more alive. And the fugu, with its aura of danger and, for non-Asians, exoticness would seem to be just the tonic for a restaurant critic’s jaded palate.

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