What comes to mind when you hear the taste of winter? In the cold season, nothing is more suitable than hotpot. There are many hot pots such as beef hot pot, shabushabu, etc but how about a hotpot using Fugu? (pufferfish). When you think of pufferfish, you may have the image that they are poisonous and scary. In Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, people refer to it as “fuku” because it resembles “lucky” (福) in Japanese. This time, we will introduce about this type of fish. Let’s find out what is so special about “Fugu”.
WHAT IS FUKU / FUGU?
Fuku / Fugu, a Japanese term for pufferfish, refers to a dish prepared from it in the integrated area of Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Various theories discuss the originality of the name Fuku. Fuku’s origin is famous for symbolizing good fortune, but some also suggest it serves to avoid unlucky words such as “impaired” and “unlucky” associated with the sound of “Fugu”. In Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, which boasts the largest amount of blowfish in Japan, you can eat high-quality blowfish that are plump and firm.
HISTORY OF FUGU
People consider the relationship between the Japanese and blowfish to be ancient. They have found bones of the pufferfish family, along with many other fish including shellfish, in the remains of the Jomon period, which dates back 6,000 years. People believe that they were already eating blowfish at that time. Excavations from the Yayoi period ruins in Shimonoseki have also unearthed Fugu bones, believed to be 2,000 to 2,500 years old.
As the era of active seafood consumption passed, the development of agricultural culture enabled the acquisition of stable agricultural products. This reduced dependence on seafood and highlighted the blowfish. During the Azuchi-Momoyama period, Toyotomi Hideyoshi sent troops to the Korean Peninsula. He set up a camp at Nagoya Castle in Kyushu (currently Karatsu City, Saga Prefecture). However, before sending the troops to war, many of the gathered samurai died from eating blowfish. This led to the issuance of the “Kawabuta Eating Ban Ordinance”, which remained in effect even after the Meiji era followed the Edo period.
At the end of the 20th year of the Meiji era, the first Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi stayed at the long-established Japanese-style inn “Shunpanro” in Shimonoseki, located on a hill overlooking the Kanmon Straits. The sea was so vast that there were no fish. The proprietress “Michi” prepared to take care of her and served Fugu as a hospitality dish to Hirobumi Ito, leading to the lifting of the ban. Hirobumi Ito, after tasting the blowfish prepared by the proprietress, praised its deliciousness. He then ordered the then governor of Yamaguchi Prefecture, Taro Hara, to lift the ban on such delicious food in 1890. This lifted the ban on blowfish food only in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
This event led to Shunhoro becoming the first official licensee of a blowfish restaurant, and Shimonoseki began to make its name known throughout the country as the home of blowfish. From the Taisho era to the early Showa era, the Fugu food culture flourished greatly in Shimonoseki due to various geographical and cultural factors. As this spread to Tokyo, the fame of “Fugu wa Shimonoseki” spread and eventually became established.
HOW TO MADE?
Fuku or Fugu fishing employs a method called longline fishing, which uses a single fishing line with many needles. Interestingly, a resident of Yamaguchi Prefecture invented this longline fishing method. However, a fisherman who lived on Sukumo Island, Shunan City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, not Shimonoseki, devised this longline fishing. The distribution channel of blowfish is complex. Fishing boats transport the pufferfish directly from the pelagic oceans of the East China Sea, the Yellow Sea, and the Sea of Japan to the Shimonoseki area, where they accumulate pufferfish, and from nearby waters such as the Seto Inland Sea.
If you want to savor the original taste of blowfish, “Fugu sashimi” is the top recommendation. As the name suggests, Fugu sashimi is blowfish sashimi. The whole meat of the fish is beautiful and has a light taste unique to white fish, characterized by a crunchy texture. Ponzu, instead of soy sauce, is the recommended accompaniment. Chopped scallions and grated Japanese radish are the standard condiments, and wrapping the green onions in blowfish enhances the taste.
In Yamaguchi Prefecture, a hot pot made by cooking blowfish meat and vegetables in kelp soup stock is called “tetchiri”. The umami of blowfish is condensed in the juice, and you can enjoy the deep taste to the end, so it is a popular way of eating that is recommended by locals. Add blowfish meat, white vegetables, raw shiitake mushrooms, white onions, garland chrysanthemum, tofu, scraps, etc. to the soup stock made with kelp and blowfish. One can add the boiled ingredients to the ponzu sauce with spices such as grated maple.
What is so unique about it?
Even though Yamaguchi Prefecture once banned Fugu, high-quality blowfish gather there. Currently, the ban on blowfish fishing has been lifted ahead of the rest of the country. People consider Tiger blowfish, which has a particularly large catch, to be the most delicious of all types of blowfish. It is known for its unique umami and moderate elasticity. Also known as the King of Winter Fish, it represents high-class white fish. Fugu in Yamaguchi Prefecture boasts high quality, and you can savor its deliciousness with a wide variety of cooking methods, including sashimi.
RECOMMENDED FUKU/FUGU RESTAURANTS
For those who crave seafood dishes, Yamaguchi Prefecture is one of the perfect places you should visit because the Seto Inland Sea is just near. Here are some of the recommended Fugu restaurants:
Speaking of Fugu cuisine in Yamaguchi Prefecture, this is Shunhoro. The reason is that the restaurant was loved by the first Prime Minister, Hirobumi Ito. This restaurant is known as the first Japanese Fugu cuisine license restaurant. It was visited by many important people including His Majesty the Emperor. It is a luxurious shop to eat authentic blowfish in a historic place. So, if you want to eat blowfish in Yamaguchi, this is the place to start. While preserving the traditional taste, some customers are always eager to search for new menus, and the satisfaction of visitors is exceptionally high. There are several courses you can enjoy here.
This shop is a 5 minutes walk from Shimonoseki station and excellent access. There are 6 private rooms so that you can have a relaxing meal, and there is also a banquet hall that can accommodate a large number of people. Only the finest blowfish is used, and the course meal is popular for its volume. In particular, Tessa (sashimi) is thick so it has a firm texture and you can fully enjoy the deep taste of tiger blowfish. As you can see by comparing it with the sashimi of other restaurants, the sashimi lined up is white rather than transparent.
Yabure Kabure is a restaurant where you can eat the iron-grilled blowfish, a specialty of Shimonoseki. It’s amazing from the name. Speaking of how to eat blowfish, it’s Tessa (sashimi), fried chicken, and it’s perfect. However, you can eat iron grilled at this shop. It feels like yakiniku. Lightly boil the blowfish on an iron plate and dip it in a yakiniku-style sauce to eat. It is chewy and delicious. The skin has a hormone-like texture.
Fugu shops are much more concentrated in Shimonoseki City, but Sakae Fugu, which is located in Shunan City, is also famous. In fact, it is a famous store that Nao Matsushita has also visited. This shop is directly managed by Aoki Fugu Shoten, a long-established Fugu wholesaler. The fried blowfish is famous. Well big! And the amount is full! The sashimi and hot pot are delicious, but the fried milt is also excellent. You are free to bring in alcohol at this shop, they allowed it.
The fifth recommended Fugu restaurant in Shimonoseki is the Mimosusogawa Annex. It is a culinary inn where you can enjoy a superb view overlooking the Kanmon Straits, but you can also use it only for meals.
You can choose your favorite style in the restaurant for those who want to enjoy it reasonably, and in the private room (additional service fee is required) for those who want to enjoy it slowly. In addition to the Fugu course, there is a wide variety of dishes such as the Kanmon seafood course. The time to enjoy Shimonoseki’s proud seafood at a long-established inn will be an unforgettable memory.
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