[Top photo shows a puffer fish aka FUGU in Japan; while bottom photo shows a licensed Japanese chef meticulously slicing FUGU sashimi]
Years ago, the enticement to a travel to Japan from here in the Philippines, is invariably being avoided like a leper by the middle-class as it was perceived as too costly. Up to now even, those who might not be in the know (and who have been privy to talks about the high cost of living in Japan as bruited around before) would still not even dare touch a Japan-bound airfare ticket with a ten-foot pole. But that perception is now becoming a thing of the past. In fact, as will be discussed hereunder, we experienced a unique feat, an enticing but deadly “romance” with the PUFFER FISH also known as FUGU in Japan.
Thanks to cyber-age especially the INTERNET and the neck-to-neck competition among travel-related industries such as airlines, hotels and the like; travel to Japan now has become affordable. And the cost of food and commodities has surprisingly become affordable too.
This is our family’s first trip to Japan and the impressions that we have observed and shared in our week’s stay is truly so positive.
The airport in Kansai in Osaka, Japan is convenient and comfortable. The airport seats are made of leather; thus it would not make you jump off the seat when you lay your warm booty on it. The likes of ensconcing on those steel and/or metal made seats that feel like a block of ice after having been cooled by the air-conditioning units. The toilets are so clean and well-appointed complete with liquid soap and hand-driers.
What is more amazing is that in the hotel where we got billeted in Kyoto, the URBAN HOTEL MINAMI-KUSATSU, the toilet seat is warmed by some kind of gadget and the mirror inside the bathroom does not turn into a blanket of mist after you take your warm bath. The toilet mirror especially the large central portion thereof would remain clear and un-misted or un-fogged (perhaps the latter is the better term).
In most instances, when you are staying in hotels; after your warm bath, thereby making out a warm ambient temperature inside the bathroom, mist would form on the surface of the mirror and one would be so pre-occupied polishing the fogged-up mirror to its original sheen.
But what is most pleasurable is the hospitality and courtesy of the hotel staff and everywhere in Japan, the sales people in the malls and the stores, the taxi drivers, the hotel staff and the restaurant waiters and waitresses. They would not stop keeping you mystified by their politeness, courteousness and their brand of Japanese obeisance, their traditional bow every time they would utter the magical phrase: “ARIGATO GOZAIMAS”.
When my Japanese friend Yasuaki Mori told us via an email message a couple of days before our Japan trip, that he would invite us to dine in a puffer-fish restaurant, I told my son Anthony to brace up to the challenge. But as Anthony was all out for it, I did not exert much effort to convince him. Anthony is usually adventurous, so wanting and daring to experience new things.
I have actually prepared a motley of excuses as my alibi in case Mori would become so insistent to persuade me to eat the puffer-fish.
All along, I easily expected that I can dodge the invitation by Mori to swallow and savor the deadly meat of a Japanese puffer-fish. Actually, I have prepared what I thought, would be a convincing excuse, my usually bum stomach.
But, when we entered the Zuboraya Resto at the Dotonbori district in Osaka, Japan and learned that all the meals therein are puffer-fish dishes; we never got to put up, especially mine and my girls’ excuses.
But what transpired was something unexpected. My girls (i.e. my wife Dang and my daughters Shayna, Cheska and Alee) never ever ate even a shred of sashimi every time we would dine in Japanese restos in Manila. If at all, they would ask the waiter/waitress to grill the raw salmon sashimi (my usual order) into some kind of well-done grade before they would wolf it up. But Mori was a good enticer and since my girls felt that they were into some kind of unique experience, they all shed their gustatory inhibitions and started to “dine with the music”, actually the step by step instructions from a seeming musical conductor… Mori. Mori started to dictate in rhythmical cadence what should be poured first into the boiling shabu-shabu pot. But before pouring in the ingredients, Mori picked up and removed from boiling pot what looked like some dried weed (or is it a dried bark) which apparently was earlier placed into the water-filled pot to enhance the eventual broth’s savor and taste. Thus; the ingredients were poured into the pot. First, the chopped parts of the puffer fish with bones; then, those without bones; then the pieces of mushroom and last, the pieces of vegetables with noodles.
But before the boiled puffer fish got cooked, the puffer fish sashimi arrived at the dining table. The puffer fish sashimi looked like thinly-sliced filaments of white radish which were assembled in triangular pieces into some kind of a circular presentation. Then, as we got so enticed by Mori; one by one, everybody was chewing the sweet-tasting and gummy substance which proved to be so palatable and luscious to the taste. Five minutes from when the chewing started, almost all the puffer fish slices were gone on the serving tray. Then, Mori started serving the boiled puffer fish and it tasted even better than the usually favorite grouper fish in most Filipino feasts.
When I posted the experience in Facebook, a fraternity brother of mine, Brod Glenn Golla, sent in this message:
“Brod, puffer fish is very special in Japan. As you said, it is deadly if improperly prepared. Only the brave eats this fish because it is very easy to err when preparing it. I think the chef has to get some certification or attain some special status to be allowed to prepare it.”
And my riposte to Brod Glenn, was this: “Yes Brod, I am in the company of brave ladies plus my braver son, Anthony, too!”.