Russian roulette at the dinner table


By Bill Colvard - [email protected]



I love to eat as much as the next person. I would wager that more often than not, I love to eat more than the next person. At some point, I may die for that love. Especially if what they say about saturated fat is true, but I have reason to hope that point isn’t going to be reached tomorrow.

For folks who love blowfish as much as I love cream and butter, they may not be so lucky. Last month when I heard about the five men who were hospitalized after eating blowfish in a private restaurant in Japan, I thought, as I always do when I hear these stories, why in the world would someone do such a thing? How good can a poisonous fish be?

I mean, I love mushrooms but I would never pick my own because if I do it wrong, I might get a poisonous one. But with a blowfish, you know you have a poisonous one and these guys ate it anyway. Not only did they eat it, they requested the liver which is one of the most poisonous parts and is actually illegal to serve in Japan.

It fascinates me that Japan needs a law to prohibit serving poisonous parts of a fish. One would think that natural selection would sort out that kind of thing. But the same thing can also be said of heroin in this country, I suppose.

Turns out, the blowfish’s appeal has more to do with deadly drugs than you’d think. The appeal of eating blowfish has never made any sense to me, probably because until this week, most of my information on the subject came from Homer Simpson.

But this week I read a story in London’s Daily Mail about the most recent poisoning in Wakayama. Mind you, I get the respectability of the London newspapers confused sometimes. Whether the Daily Mail is more akin to the New York Times or the National Enquirer, I couldn’t say, but the story was certainly interesting nonetheless. It takes several years for a sushi chef to learn to prepare a blowfish, or fugu as it’s known in Japan, so that it won’t kill anyone. The fish’s skin, liver and ovaries are the most poisonous.

But it all comes down to tingling lips. Eating blowfish makes your lips tingle and apparently, some people get off on that. They get off on it enough to risk death.

Must be quite a tingle.

Blowfish contains tetrodotoxin, which is, by the way, 100 times more lethal than cyanide, according to the Daily Mail. And guess what the first symptom of tetrodotoxin poisoning is? That’s right, tingling lips. So, apparently the goal is to eat enough of the blowfish to get your lips to tingle but not enough to make your heart explode. Culinary autoeroticism, if you will.

Should anyone be interested, I believe there are a few places to check out blowfish here in the U.S. but I think I’ll pass. I’ve heard there are maybe 12 sushi chefs here who are qualified to serve it. But I’ve also heard they get their blowfish from Japan which violates my first rule of sushi.

It must be fresh. And local. Very fresh and very local. I want to see the water that fish came out of from my seat at the sushi bar. And preferably, I want to see the fish I am about to eat pulled out of that water after I sit down in that seat.

No way I am going to eat a raw fish that has traveled halfway around the world. You can totally forget about me eating a raw poisonous fish that has traveled halfway around the world.

It would be just my luck to dodge the threat of tetrodotoxin poisoning and then drop dead not because the blowfish is poisonous but because it’s spoiled.

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By Bill Colvard

[email protected]

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.

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