From flirting with death through fugu to surviving attempted murder by mochi, here's the brave food-lover's guide to truly Japanese cuisine.
International visitors may be surprised to see just how many different food and alcohol establishments there are in Japan. Whatever the cuisine, the Japanese have found some way to modify it to their own taste. And they are always hungry for more!
Since ancient times, the Japanese have not been afraid to try foods that seemed a little dangerous. Such courageous spirit has survived until the present, and here we will take a look at some dangerously delicious Japanese food.
Everybody eats mochi, but how safe is it?
Often eaten on occasions like New Year, mochi is a variety of rice much stickier than regular rice that is steamed, pounded and kneaded. Seemingly harmless, there are several elderly people who die each year after choking on mochi in what some consider a social problem. Though it normally poses no threat if chewed slowly and thoroughly, the elderly and infants are still vulnerable.
Particularly delicious variations on the mochi formula are savory isobeyaki (wrapped in seaweed that has been flavored with soy sauce) and sweet dessert kinakomochi (sprinkled with sugar and soy flour), so please give them a try.
Fugu, 1000 times deadlier than cyanide!
With its fine white flesh and subtle texture, fugu raw, fried or stewed is one of Japan's most celebrated fine dining experiences that we urge you to try.
Since some parts of the fish are poisonous, preparation by amateurs is prohibited. So in the unlikely event that you are invited by a friend to eat fugu that they caught and dished up themselves, you must politely decline! Indeed, essentially 100% of fugu poisoning cases occur due to handling by an amateur.
The tetrodoxin in fugu is supposedly 1,000 times more fatal than potassium cyanide, with its paralysis effect making it difficult for victims to breathe. And since there are no known antidotes, the mortality rate for fugu poisoning is high.
That being said, if you eat at a restaurant where the chef holds a special license, then you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
The pungent aroma of Japan's fermented “natto,” “kusaya,” and “funazushi”
Finally, let's take a look at Japan's smellier foodstuffs.
Natto comes from steamed soy beans, fermented until they form sticky strands when pulled apart and take on a distinctive odor.
Even within Japan, opinions about this delicacy are divided and people from the Kansai area in particular are not so keen. However, it is abundant in nutrients for health and beauty including proteins, vitamins, calcium, and iron. And if you mix it with soy sauce, the flavors come together to make a nice accompaniment to rice.
Kusaya is made when mackerel scad, flying fish or thread-sail filefish are pickled in kusaya eki (kusaya liquid) and then dried. The flavor is determined by the kusaya eki, which is a brine unique to each different kusaya producer that takes on the rich flavor of the salted fish and is fermented. Kusaya has a high nutritional value, brimming with vitamins and essential amino acids that make it a natural probiotic.
The smell comes from the fermentation process, though this has become mild in recent times due to customer preference. You won't find it in every izakaya, but if it happens to be on the menu then why not take the challenge?
"鮒寿司" by Yasuo Kida https://flic.kr/p/5MPM1d
A rare treat even for Japanese, funazushi bears the name “sushi” but being pickled it takes a form quite different to what you may imagine. It is a preserved foodstuff made from nigorobuna (a subspecies of goldfish) pickled in salt, then pickled again in rice to complete its fermentation. Rich in minerals and vitamin B1, it promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestine which has been linked to beautiful skin. The aroma gives the impression of cheese, so for those who enjoy the strong flavor of things like blue cheese,funazushi may be right up their alley.
It may take guts to take the plunge, but whether at a shop or restaurant you will certainly enjoy trying these dangerously delicious foods. For those who want to step off the beaten track of Japanese cuisine, here are some excellent places to start!