The deadly treat that tastes so good
I love sushi and sashimi but I usually try to avoid eating any fish which could kill me.
For example, last week, ahead of a Zoom party, organised by the Japan Society, I ordered a takeaway from Sushi Show in Angel, Islington, London.
It was a delicious meal including salmon and ikura but I didn’t buy any fugu, a type of fish which is popular in Japan but which contains a powerful poison.
The food critic Ligaya Mishan has written a fascinating analysis of fugu for the magazine of the New York Times.
She explains that “the innards are suffused with the neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin (TTX). In high enough doses, this can shut down a diner’s nerve impulses and cause, within hours, nausea, paralysis and the stalling of the heart.”
She warns that “even the lovely chrysanthemum that the chef painstakingly builds on the plate is read as a morbid omen, since, in Japan, the flower traditionally appears in funeral wreaths.”
She balances her sense of shock with some wonderful details about Japanese culture.
I learned from her that there are 22 species of fugu, not all of which are edible and only a few of which are poisonous.
Chefs in Japan must to study the fish carefully and pass an exam in it before they can add the fish to the menu.
The key thing is knowing how to separate the posion from the tasty, translucent flesh.
Critic and activist
According to Vice Magazine, Ligaya Mishan uses her journalism about food to be “an activist voice for Asian-Americans.”
She told Mitchell Kuga from Vice that after interviewing many chefs, she struggled with the question: “What is Asian-American cuisine?”
She says the term is problematic because it subsumes countries across a vast region with no shared language or religion. However, she believes Asian-American chefs “have played a seismic, if unacknowledged role in shaping the new American palate.”
“What may be most radical about Asian-American cuisine,” she writes, “is the attitude that informs and powers it, reflecting a new cockiness in a population that has historically kept quiet and been encouraged to lay low. It’s food that celebrates crunchy cartilage and gelatinous ooze, that openly stinks, that declares: This is what I like to eat. What about you? Do you dare?”