BACK ISSUE #408

International Dining: Puff daddy
Winter in Japan is the season for skiing, staying indoors and eating poisonous fish. Maki Nibayashi comes face-to-face with Japan's venerable and venomous—the fish is loaded with a nerve toxin 500 times deadlier than cyanide—fugu on her quest to find Tokyo's tastiest blowfish eateries.

Tsukitei
Originally a kaiseki-ryori restaurant, this authentic Japanese eatery was transformed into a fugu specialty shop a few years back. By late December the restaurant is packed with thrill-seekers wanting to get their first bite of this savory but dangerous specialty dish—prepared of course by licensed chefs well-trained in the art of kamikaze cuisine. The most popular item is the fugu set, comprising of tessa (fugu sashimi cut transparently thin and laid out like delicately on a large flat plate), fugu-chiria (nabe of different parts of fugu meat and vegetables), and, for dessert, a zosui (stock) rice porridge. The zosui is said to be the best part since the rice is prepared in the same hot pot that accommodated the previous dishes. An excellent dashi (stock) makes this last part of the nabe worth waiting for. The cost is ¥3,900 per person and reservations are highly recommended.
1-39-1 Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku. Tel: 03-3986-3321. Open 4-11pm Mon-Sat, closed Sun and holidays. Nearest stn: Ikebukuro, west exit.

Matsumoto
This classic restaurant first opened its doors in Meiji 14 (1881) and, set in the rustic climes of downtown Tokyo, remains one of the city's oldest fugu institutions. You can actually see the blowfish happily swimming in the store's water tank, and feel safe in the knowledge that your moderately expensive dinner will be as fresh as possible. Try their fugu sushi (prices vary) and their ladies' course lunch special (¥3,500), where you can try morsels of fugu delights. Don't worry, guys, you can order it too.
Casa Tawaramachi 201, 1-1-13 Nishi-Asakusa, Taito-ku. Tel: 03-3845-2929. Open 11:30am-2pm, 5-10pm. Closed 2nd/4th Sun. Nearest stn: Tawaramachi.

Shunsagami
With over six branches in the Kanto area and more than 60 different fugu dishes on their menu, this is the place for your one-stop fugu smorgasbord. Make sure to have the zosui after the fugu-chiri because apparently it is the best around. ¥3,500 per person and add ¥500 for the zosui.
13F Odakyu Manhatten Hills, 1-1-3 Nishi-Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3343-4885. Open 11am-10:30pm. Nearest stn: Shinjuku, west exit.

Nibiki
For over 150 years this Tokyo institution has worked in pursuit of perfecting the hallowed fugu dish. The owner and head chef, who is the seventh generation in Nibiki's extended line of great fugu cooks, uses only torafugu, the puff daddy of blowfish said to be the most poisonous, and the most tasty, of the 40 species available in Japan. A restaurant that's keen on keeping the taste of old Edo alive and kicking, Nibiki's bustling old-world charm epitomizes why over 10,000 tons of fugu are still consumed annually in The Land of the Rising Sun. The Ume course, which includes eight or nine fugu dishes, is ¥8,000 per person and is well worth the price for those in search of some authentic fugu feasting.
3-3-7 Shimoya, Taito-ku. Tel: 03-3872-6250. Open 5-9pm, closed Sun and holidays. Nearest stn: Hibiya line, Iriya, 15min walk along Kanesugi-dori.

Fuguyoshi
600 fugu delivered fresh every morning to satisfy your craving. The fugu-chiri hot pot, at only ¥1,980 per person, is Fuguyoshi's staple dish. Reservations are highly recommended.
2-13-8 Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku. Open 5-11:30pm daily. Tel: 03-5951-1929. Nearest stn: Ikebukuro, west exit.

Photo by Tama Miyake