I wrote this post before hearing about the earthquake in Japan. Our thoughts and prayers to all the people there.
Another dinner in Tokyo that my aunt helped arrange for me was a fugu dinner at Sankaku in the Asakusa neighborhood. Fugu (or puffer fish) is a Japanese delicacy and is poisonous if not cut and prepared properly. Although fugu incidents are quite low and generally due to home preparation, there is still some risk to eating fugu…but I suppose that is part of the intrigue. My aunt told me that fugu happened to be in season when I was in Tokyo (during December) and she made reservations for me at a place that her dad frequented quite regularly.
We were really lucky that my aunt knew the owners because they were fully booked during the busy holiday season but were able to squeeze us in when my aunt told them that we came all the way from Canada. I checked out Sankaku’s website prior to our visit but my aunt actually came up with a list of dishes for us to order so we could get the full fugu experience and also translated it into Japanese so we could pass it along to our server and chef. After we settled into our seats, the owner came out to greet us and came to explain what each dish was. His English was pretty good…much better than our broken Japanese
While we warmed up from the cold, our server brought some nibbles for us. First was some fugu “jell-o”, a salty gelatin made with fugu skin (left), then some sea snail (centre), and a couple of fresh broad beans (right).
Then came the main dishes. First came the fugu sashi, which was basically sashimi from different parts of the fugu. In our haste to eat this, we didn’t even realize that I didn’t take a picture until we were half done! The fugu sashimi was cut very thinly and arranged in the shape of a chrysanthemum flower. At the top of the photo below is also some fugu skin, sliced very thinly and in strips. Our server helped us to prepare a sauce of chives, spicy radish, vinegar, and soy sauce, which we used to dip the fugu sashi in. We found the flavour very subtle with a hint of sweetness but most of the flavour came from our dipping sauce. What I found really unique was the slightly chewy and firm consistency of the fugu sashi, which I haven’t experienced in other sashimi before.
Next came fugu karaage, deep fried fugu. We drizzled some lime over the fugu which brought out the subtle flavours of the fish. The deep frying brought out the firmness of the fish, which was also quite flakey but juicy at the same time, which contrasted with the light crispy coating. This was one of Jenkins’ favourite fugu dishes of the evening.
At this point, the owner came out and asked if we’d like anything additional to drink other than the green tea we already had. He recommended that we try the fugu hire sake, which was grilled fugu fins in sake. Jenkins and I decided to have one to share and this turned out to be a good thing because it was really strong! At the same time, this was actually our hands down favourite of the evening. We could really taste the grilled flavour of the fugu which permeated the warm sake. It was delicious and we also noticed that it was a fan favourite amongst the other patrons as well.
Then came the shirako-yaki, which was the grilled roe of the fugu. We found out later that this is a really popular fugu dish and although we were a bit nervous about eating it initially, I ended up really liking it. The outside was lightly grilled and salted; once you popped the whole thing in your mouth, it burst into some creamy goodness. The lime and salt heightened the flavour and I could see why it was so popular.
We were finally down to the last dishes of the evening, fugu chiri, which is like a fugu hot pot. Along with the fugu bones came some tofu and veggies.
It looked like most of the patrons were preparing the hot pot themselves but since we were newbies, my aunt asked in advance if the server could help us prepare the dish.
The flavours from the veggies and the fugu in this dish was so mild that most of what we could taste was the recommended vinegar-based dipping sauce. Again, what really stood out for me was the unique firm texture of the fugu.
When we finished the last of the veggies and fugu, the owner came out and prepared a light congee-like dish with the remaining broth. He threw in some pre-cooked rice, swirled in some eggs, and added a dash of MSG for some extra umami. 😛
We garnished our zousui (congee) with some thinly sliced green onions and a bit of spicy daikon. Although really mild in flavour, I really liked the zousui as an ending dish and I think a large part of it was due to the once again, perfectly made rice.
Jenkins and I had quite an enjoyable experience trying fugu for the first time. I was quite surprised by the mild flavour of the fugu and in my first-timer opinion, I felt that fugu was more about a play on different textures than the taste itself. Trying the different dishes, I could see how the texture of the fugu changed depending on how it was prepared but it was always different from other foods I’ve tried before…if that makes any sense. The only dish where I really tasted the fugu flavour at its fullest was the sake and that is probably why it was also one of my favourite “dishes” It was definitely a unique experience though and I would highly recommend it…especially if you are in Japan during fugu season. Due to the strict regulations around fugu preparation, the meals are quite costly and you definitely want to make sure the fugu is prepared correctly! Our dinner was ¥12500 for the two of us.
1-20-7 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo