Paper-thin, translucent white sashimi are arranged on the plate like the fan of a kabuki dancer, inviting diners to bite into meat that doesn’t taste at all like premium fish: subtle and surprisingly chewy.
But this is no ordinary fish. It’s fugu, or puffer fish in Japanese, and succumbing to its seduction could kill you. It contains tetrodotoxin, a poison that’s 1,200 times deadlier than cyanide. A lethal dose can be as little as the head of a pin, according to Time magazine, and the victim dies of respiratory paralysis. There is no known antidote.
Still, daredevil diners partake of this Japanese delicacy because of the thrill. Some restaurants in Japan are said to leave a smidgeon of tetrodotoxin for a mild tongue-tingling sensation.
Rest assured that there’s none of that at two-month-old Fuku, due to Singapore food-safety regulations. This 65-seat fine dining Japanese restaurant along Mohammed Sultan Road is the first in Singapore to specialise in serving this fish, a delicacy that has been consumed in Japan for more than 2,000 years.
As required by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore, Fuku imports farmed puffer fish bred without poison and cleaned of organs that may still contain tetrodotoxin. The white-bellied sea creature then goes under the knives of experienced executive chef Koji Tsukamoto and sous chef Toshi Miyanagi, both of whom hold licences from the Japanese government to prepare the fish safely.
The restaurant achieves everything else fugu dishes are known for: a fine balance of flavours and textures achieved through clever use of condiments and fish parts without overpowering the mild-tasting meat – unsurprising since Tsukamoto has 20 years of experience in preparing and cooking the fish. This is seen in three classic fugu renditions: sashimi, hotpot and porridge.
Fresh sashimi is served with cartilage-like strips of blanched skin. This is rolled with baby leek and eaten with a touch of tart ponzu sauce (soya sauce with mirin and lime) for a crunchy-chewy sensation.
The bones and tail are used for the hotpot cooked at the table and enjoyed with vegetables like mizuna (Japanese mustard), cabbage and mushrooms. If the chewy sashimi isn’t to your liking, dip it into the soup so it becomes tender. Steamed rice and an egg are added to the broth, so it becomes a comforting bowl of egg-laced porridge.
All dishes are subtle and serve to highlight fugu’s mild taste. Daredevils might be disappointed by the lack of a thrill but, for the rest of us, it’s a great way to dine without dancing with death.
#01-01, 14 Mohamed Sultan Road. http://fugu-fuku.com/