Eat Fugu or Die Tryin'. Fugu Sashi. The Hump Restaurant. Santa Monica, CA. PART 1 of 2.

FuguFugu on ice. (Photo: Wikimedia Foundation)

For me the most embarrassing way to die involves sitting on a toilet, pants and underwear around my ankles, the latest Victoria’s Secret catalog clenched in one fist, my other hand clutched to my chest and the drool from my mouth steadily pooling onto the floor; this pathetic scene frozen by rigor mortis. Law and Order’s wisenheimer Detective Lennie Briscoe then shows up, takes one look and figures it all out without ever having to set down his Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. Shaking his head, Briscoe turns to his partner and cracks, “What a jerk.”

Even more embarrassing than a fatal coronary inspired by a Heidi Klum thong ad would be death resulting from a particularly inventive though exceptionally retarded fetish called autoerotic asphyxiation. (I shall let you click the link rather than explain the gories. Others do a much more expert job of it anyway.) The method is already humiliating enough, but the fact that it is self-inflicted makes it Pee-wee Herman humiliating. (This is precisely when the “victim” needs an extraordinary last will and testament that predicts such an unfortunate and perverse demise. More importantly, this will must include a pre-drafted and tastefully ambiguous obituary that names the cause of death as, ahem, “flu-like”.)

With all of this in mind, I’ve since banned any reading material from the bathroom that has in its title “swimsuit edition” or any slang variation of the word “breast” or anything involving Heidi Klum. Also I never intend to practice autoerotic asphyxiation so that, knock on wood, takes care of that. Thus when it comes time for me to kick the bucket, my hope is that it happens peacefully, sans scandal and during REM sleep. That’s that. There is no possibility of an embarrassing death.

But then…there is death by fugu.

Almost as undignified as being caught dead with your pants down is being caught dead with your face planted in a plate of fugu, chopsticks clenched in fist, sake bomb gripped in other hand, all of this pathetic scene frozen by rigor mortis while Detective Briscoe stands in the doorway and sneers, “Someone shoulda told him never order fish on Monday.”

Fugu, however, is not only deadly on Monday but also Tuesday, Wednesday, “Anything Can Happen Day” or any other day of the week. Fugu is Japanese for blowfish or puffer fish or globefish. Fugu is highly toxic and prized in Japan as a delicacy. But in the capable hands of a licensed fugu chef, the deadly neurotoxin is mostly removed and the chances of death substantially diminish. Still there is a chance. Then why eat it, fool? Um, because it's there? Or maybe because it's the foodie's variation on cliff diving. From what I understand fugu has virtually no flavor. Some say it tastes like chicken. Clearly people are not risking their lives to taste a fish that is chicken-like. It more likely is for the tingling sensation on the lips from the poison. Or the numbness of the tongue. Certainly it's to indulge in a little taste of death. So when I decided that I was going to try fugu for the first time, I had to get a few things in order, like: Be sure any pornographic JPEGS were deleted from the computer, buy and wear brand new boxer briefs, purchase life insurance that covers death by blowfish (I still haven’t tracked that one down), explain to my baby girl why she may not have a daddy soon and, lastly, write my tastefully ambiguous obituary that explains my death as resulting from “severe food poisoning”.

Yes, I understand the odds of eating myself to death from fugu are very small. I’m still a little nervous though. It’s a bit like Russian roulette albeit if the revolver I pointed to my temple had a million chambers and only one bullet. Nonetheless, the gun is still loaded. And no matter how much reassurance I get from the research, the fact is every year a few people die an excruciating death from consuming fugu.

Death by fugu is nature’s way of pantsing the food chain. Just because you are bigger and have opposable thumbs doesn’t mean your less evolved dinner can’t reach out from the dead and make you dead too. It takes from four to twenty-four hours of ingesting fugu to know whether or not you ate that ultimate piece of bad fish. If you did, you begin to feel faint, dizzy and nauseous. You hope it’s just fatigue or the flu. Then the tetrodotoxin conjures its black magic; your muscles stop working and your body eventually becomes paralyzed. The official CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) website’s clinical description of this is:

“The consumption of toxic amounts of tetrodotoxin results primarily in neurologic and gastrointestinal signs and symptoms. In severe poisoning, dysrhythmias, hypotension, and even death might occur (1, 2). If a rapid onset of one of the following neurologic and gastrointestinal signs or symptoms occurs, the clinical description for tetrodotoxin poisoning has been met: 1) oral paresthesias (might progress to include the arms and legs), 2) cranial nerve dysfunction, 3) weakness (might progress to paralysis), 4) nausea or vomiting, or 5) sudden and inexplicable appreciation for Josh Groban's music.” (I made up that last one.)

The CDC neglects to further explain that you will be completely alert during all of this. Almost like a cruel prank, tetrodotoxin doesn’t affect the brain leaving you totally cognizant during your paralysis thereby allowing you to fully appreciate your potential death by asphyxia. High five to that!

Although there is no antidote, your life doesn’t necessarily have to flash before your eyes just yet. The poison does wear off within a day or so. As long as you get yourself to the hospital and get hooked up to a respirator, you can possibly ride it through and come out just fine.

That said, most of those who died from dining on fugu enjoyed their last meal by preparing it themselves without a licensed fugu chef. Sometimes it’s worth paying that little extra for the expertise. DIY in this case means DIE.

I don’t plan on dying for this meal. Which is why I’m eating fugu at The Hump, a perfectly respectable Japanese restaurant at the Santa Monica Municipal Airport. It’s Zagat rated. The Zagats wouldn’t let anyone die. Would they? But if something unfortunate does happen to me after eating fugu, I wanted to at least begin this story. Therefore I’m writing it in two parts: Before my encounter with fugu and after. The optimistic assumption, of course, is that there will be an “after” and that this “after” will see me in a healthful condition capable of coherent and articulate written expression. Whichever the case may be.

Whatever will be, will be. It's time to eat fugu or die tryin’.

What happened to Eddie??? Read part 2 of 2, the thrilling conclusion of Eat Fugu or Die Tryin’


Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eddie Lin said…
Hi Jennie,

Thanks for your Scarlet impersonation. I can almost hear it from all the way over here. I appreciate your concern. I am too. I will be very drunk hopefully when I do this so the pain (if there is any) will be softened with fuzzy liquor. I haven't done it yet. Keep your fingers crossed.

May the force be with me.
Anonymous said…
Oh fella... while I'd love to whisper sweet nothings to you as encouragement for completion of this tale, your assumption of Zagat's being any type of devine angel are wrong. I've eaten a few bad meals at restaurants rated by Zagat's, and while I wouldn't have died as a result, I'd hardly put my life in the hands of the little maroon book.

With that, I wish you luck, and I thank your stomach for taking this challenge.
Eddie Lin said…

sweet nothings are empty calories. give me money instead. i do, however, appreciate your well wishes as i embark on my most foolish journey yet.

please, somebody talk me out of this.
Anonymous said…
Hey, I *almost* had some "Blood Stew" the other day, but they were "fresh out of it"....I had to settle for a large stuffed squid head :(

with picture
Juliet said…
All I could think of as I read this entry was that Simpsons episode from about 15 years ago. I'm sure you remember it. Good luck with the fugu. Don't die. And if you do, don't let your last word be "d'oh!"
Anonymous said…

Fugu?? Sign me up, I'll be your back up. We can leave women at home and party at the airport. Anyhow, I just wanted to say hello. I see what we are getting for Xmas, sweeeeeeettttt!!! Deep End Dining t-shirts!!! Keep up the good work.
Eddie Lin said…

at least you tried. i can sleep better at night knowing that my hypnotic prose is successfully infecting the minds of the impressionable and eager. squid head is a noble start. next time go big. go cow head. order a cabeza taco. i dare you!


yes, most people are aware of fugu because of the simpsons. what i really love about that episode is that in the simpsons' world when you die of fugu poisoning you don't asphyxiate, you explode. i guess that makes perfect sense since the subject here is blowfish.


oh man, someone from my real life world leaving a comment. i'm not sure i know how to handle this. well, for starters, thanks for the comment. sure we can go have fugu together and leave the beeyatches at home but by the time you read this it may be already too late. i may be in the big sushi bar in the sky doing sake bombs. sayonara!
Anonymous said…
good luck.

can i have the rights to your blog?


can't wait to read part 2
Anonymous said…
Does anyone here have the original recepee for a kick-ass Chicken Cacciatore??????????
Eddie Lin said…

My gift to you this holiday - The World's Best Chicken Cacciatore recipe!!!

Seasons Eatings from all of us at the Squid Network!!
Eddie Lin said…

You can have the rights to Deep End Dancing if I can trade jaws with you! Pretty please.
elmomonster said…

As you are eating the blowfish, could you dictate your post into a tape recorder? That way your wife can transcribe your review later on your blog, post-mortem...I'm just afraid we're not going to see Part 2 of 2 if you don't do it. PLEASE THINK OF YOUR READERS!!!

P.S. Don't forget to leave her the password to your account.
Eddie Lin said…
elmo, my friend,

you've been a good guy. i want to thank you for your dedication to this insane blog. i really appreciate it and i also appreciate your concern. but don't worry. all the contingency plans are in the will. if anything undesirable plays out, you'll still know how it played out one way or another.

take care of yourself and thank you. one more thing, I DON'T WANT TO DIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEE!!!! SOMEBODY, ANYBODY, STOP ME!!!!
Anonymous said…

Kickass dude! Do it. Do it! And live to write about Part II. :D

- AnonymousIdiot
rowan said…
So.. did you ever eat it??!
I had deep fried fugu (bones and all) in Seoul, Korea. The chef assured me that frying dissipates the toxin. Tasted like fried chicken.
Anonymous said…
Detoxified fugu flesh is a VERY safe dining excursion in Japan. In fact, no one experiences the numbness of the tongue or gums from eating fugu filet flesh raw. The main reason the the fillets are sliced paper thin for sashimi fugu is to reveal any blood vessels within the flesh which contain the majority of neurotoxins.

People who receive a irreversible amount of the poison are from individuals (like a National Cultural living treasure- now dead, Kabuki actor) who risked eating tiny "detoxed" fugu livers after being cautioned NOT to eat them.

It is claimed by fugu maniacs, this is the numbness of the tongue and even elated feeling comes from- eating a non-lethal dose of neruotoxin. Some fugu liver gomets eat a half or a 1/4 of liver to reduce their risk of poisoning. The Kabuki actor I mentioned allegedly consumed four or five livers that evening.

It is forbidden for any licensed fugu chef to offer the liver in any form to a customer- yet a couple diners insist on taking the risk.

Just eat the white paper thin fugu sashimi or the nabe(hot pot) with contains non-lethal parts of the blow fish and you will be fine.

P.S. Maybe you shouldn't encourage your smaller children to eat it fugu at all. I didn't until they were adults.
The Japan Rants said…
Hey, Great set of articles
I was just swinging by to do a little research on what was out there about blowfish for a piece I was putting together about the upcoming law changes, and found this.

I enjoyed it so much, that I hope you dont mind I linked back to it in mine~

Hope you dont mind~