The Foods That Tried to Kill Me

“No need to panic. There is a map to the hospital on the back of the menu.”
―Toshiro (assistant chef at The Happy Sumo), The Simpsons

It’s not often I put my life in danger when eating, but then I’m not often in Japan either.

I really didn’t plan on eating dangerous food here. I mostly planned on enjoying sushi, sashimi, and ramen, and seeking out beer beyond the usual suspects of Kirin and Asahi. I found the beers, and enjoyed a lot of Japanese microbrews (more on that another time), but it was the sashimi and ramen that almost did me in.

How spicy do you want it?

You can see the chili oil separation
You can see the chili oil separation

I made a friend here in Tokyo who decided I had to try a really spicy ramen restaurant–it was all about seeing if I was serious about my love of spicy food. We headed for dinner at Nakamoto, a ramen restaurant, in Shibuya (they have a few locations apparently) and ordered our meals with the push of a button. The spiciness of the ramen is rated 1-10, 10 being the spiciest. I ordered #9–I would’ve ordered #10, but the soup and noodles were separated and I felt like that would be cheating.

Yes, it was really spicy. Not the spiciest food I’ve ever had, but probably in the top five. And, the flavor was really good–it wasn’t just a painful burn, but a more flavorful, aromatic spiciness. The temperature of the soup made it a little difficult to eat at first–I had to wait a while for it to cool off (it was a big bowl and needed time).

If you survive, please come again

The second Japanese meal that tried to kill me was fugu, or blowfish. I was happy to discover that I arrived in Tokyo at the right time–it’s fugu season in late fall and into winter. However, I discovered that it’s not easy to find a restaurant that serves this poisonous fish. Then I found it difficult to find a restaurant that served it at a reasonable price (I wasn’t going to spend $100 or more for a meal that wasn’t as spectacular as 15 Fox Place).

Wonderful presentation of fugu sashimi
Wonderful presentation of fugu sashimi

I found a restaurant in Akihabara on the weekend my coworker was visiting. It was definitely a better experience having someone who speaks the language along for the meal. At Yakichi, my coworker was able to ask which sake went best with fugu and, of course, choose what was on the menu. We were told they only had fried fugu and a hot pot, but the waiter got the chef to serve us plates of fugu sashimi instead for $23 each. The sake that was paired with the fugu was good, and we think it had a blowfish fin in it.

The fish heads greeted customers at the door
The fish heads greeted customers at the door

Overall, I wasn’t impressed with fugu, which was technically called tiger blowfish. It was chewy and bland. The only redeeming quality was that it could be drenched in a special soy sauce with some roe and scallions. It was even pretty good with a little bit of lime.

Where do you draw the line when it comes to potentially dangerous culinary adventures?

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