The popular American conception of the Japanese seafood delicacy fugu, or blowfish, is best summed up by the first 20 minutes an episode of "The Simpsons." At the beginning of season two's "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish," Homer visits a new sushi restaurant in Springfield and orders a few slices of fugu, parts of which contain a deadly neurotoxin. But because it's been sliced by an apprentice, rather than the master sushi chef, he is led to believe he has just 24 hours to live. He spends the rest of the day sorting out his affairs in anticipation of his demise. People tend to think, in short, that fugu eating is culinary harakiri.
But the reality of fugu is encapsulated by that same episode's surprise ending. Homer survives: he hasn't eaten the poisonous part of the fish after all.
Very few people, as it turns out, get sick after eating blowfish in Japan, and fewer still die. And most who do fall ill do so after eating fugu at home, not in a restaurant. For that reason, Tokyo officials are considering easing their extremely tight regulation of fugu preparation, Japan Times reports.
Until now, Tokyo gourmands have been allowed to buy fugu only in pricey restaurants dedicated specifically to the fish, which is known for the tingly sensation it produces in the mouths of eaters. That's because chefs are required to get a special license, certifying their training and proficiency, to sell fugu. But if the regulations are revised as expected, the licensing requirement will be dropped altogether starting in October, as it already has been in some other prefectures of Japan.
It's possible, of course, that the decision is as misguided as that of the apocryphal czar who ordered the execution of all doctors in the most disease-infested province of Russia. (Maybe people aren't dying because regulation is stringent!) But maybe fugu really is safer than we think -- in which case patrons of low-brow restaurants in Tokyo will soon be feasting on a lot of delicious, once-taboo sashimi.