Blowfish at Zuboraya

Risking death for a Japanese delicacy

 By Phillip Nelson   Jan 5, 2012

Zuboraya is a famous restaurant right in the heart of Dotonbori specializing in Fugu, or pufferfish. These fish contain high doses of the neurotoxin, called Tetrodotoxin, a substance more lethal than cyanide. When ingested, it causes total paralysis and eventually leads to death by asphyxiation. There is no antidote. The worst part is, you’re totally conscious the whole time. Sounds like just the thing for lunch, right?

Fugu has been on the menu for hundreds of years in Japan, and the most recent statistics for Tokyo show that there's been only one restaurant related death in the past thirteen years.

Most deaths occur from untrained fishermen catching and eating it themselves. Chefs must undergo an additional three years of training before being allowed to prepare and serve it. There are still about fifty cases a year all over Japan, though most survive as long as they get to hospital in time. Once at the hospital, patients are put on life support until the body as time to rid itself of the poison.

Armed with all these stats, we headed in to try out this deadly fish. We sat in the downstairs section at the bar where we could watch chefs preparing sushi at light speed. We ordered the combination sashimi platter with Fugu as well as deep fried Fugu and sat back to enjoy (what might be our last) beer and sake.

When our sashimi arrived we only hesitated a moment before diving in--I mean there’re people lining up to get an table upstairs, so there’s not really any chance of anything going wrong, is there?

The fish itself was beautifully presented and tasted spectacular. I placed the raw fugu on my tongue for a while to see if I could feel any sort of tingling (both part of the taste but also one of the first signs of poisoning) but I think I only imagined it. Some of the fish are bred for less poison so you don't get the lips and tongue tingling and numbness from eating them. Nevertheless, we survived our lunch and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Lunch at Zuboraya is quite reasonably priced, but I have heard that dinner can get quite expensive, so if you just want to try this fish without it costing you an arm and leg, get down during daylight hours.

I’m not sure it’s normal to risk death just for a nice lunch but statistically speaking you’re more likely to get hit by a car. Most people’s answer to that is, ‘Yes, but we don’t go looking for it’. But people go parachuting all the time, or risk death in other ways for a thrill.  And with the strict regulations put in force by the government for the buying and serving of this deadly fish, it is extremely safe. Just make sure you go to a licensed restaurant. 

Written by Phillip Nelson
JapanTravel Member

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Cathy Cawood 5 months ago
I went to a blowfish restaurant in Takatsuki once. It was sort of weird because everything in the set menu was blowfish - sashimi, sushi, nabe, tempura, soup, etc. and most of it was flavored with ponzu. I really enjoyed the sashimi and the tempura, but thought the set was too much fugu at once. I didn't notice any tingling or numbness, and obviously I survived :-)
Victoria Vlisides 5 months ago
I'd really like to try this...
Laura Weaver 2 years ago
Probably the scariest meal you will ever eat. And yet i would like to try it! Thanks for sharing.