Reading Comprehension 057



Ian Fleming’s evil globe-fish – also known as puffer, blowfish, swellfish, or in Japanese, fugu – is one of the most mysterious creatures of the sea. It is perhaps the world’s most deadly fish, yet in Japan the honorable fugu is the epitome of gourmet dining.

About 100 species of puffers in several closely related families can be found throughout the world. Their most obvious characteristic is their ability to balloon out from a reasonable fish shape into a sphere two or three times large. When frightened, excited, or annoyed, they gulp water, or even air, into a sac on the belly. It swells inside their tough, elastic skin, like an inner tube inside a tire, so as to discourage predators or intimidate rivals. When the fish feels safe, it squirts out the water or releases the air, deflating to its normal shape.

In Japan, eating fugu has been the gastronomic version of Russian roulette for centuries. Sometimes a diner stills losses the gamble. His chopsticks clatter to the table from nerveless fingers; he pales; his breathing labours. It is often the subject of traditional senryu verse. Last night he and I ate fugu;
Today, I help carry his coffin
“It’s a terrible death,” a Japanese restaurant owner told me. “Even though you can think very clearly, your arms and legs become numb. It becomes impossible to sit up. You can think but cannot speak, cannot move, and soon cannot breathe.”

Why the Japanese, who venerate hygiene, should make a ritual of eating deadly poisonous fish, is difficult for foreigners to comprehend. fugu ovaries, intestine, and liver can be so deadly that if even a tiny touch of them is left in the flesh, the gourmet dies, often within minutes. About 60 percent of puffer poisonings prove fatal.

When eating fugu, the diner puts his life in the hands of the chef. Before practicing their risky art, all fugu cooks must be licensed and must take intensive courses, extensive apprenticeship, and written exams.

To eat fugu liver is the height of exotica. It is one of the most poisonous parts of the fish, and techniques for detoxifying it are not dependable. Chefs are prohibited from serving fugu liver, but they sometimes relent under the impassioned pleas of gourmets. Mitsugoro Bando had four servings and paid the ultimate price.

Despite the danger, demand for puffers is increasing so fast that the Japanese fishing grounds are being depleted. Today the Japanese are successfully culturing the fish.

Every year from October through March, millions of diners bet their lives on not getting fatally poisoned. Thanks to strict regulation of restaurants and wholesalers, the number that loses decreases each year. But this droll and perposterous fish with the goggling eyes, swollen belly, and floppy fins remains the world’s most deadly feast. The enigma of the fugu is summed up in the traditional verse:
Those who eat fugu soap are stupid But who’s who don’t eat fugu soup are also stupid.


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