Japan is undeniably one of the most unique countries in the world —an isolated island for over two hundred years that has been able to blend ancient and modern culture in perfect harmony. It’s no wonder that the country has one of the highest life expectancies. Many attribute it to their healthy diet which includes rice, fish, and vegetables, with very few fatty foods or dairy.
In 2013 UNESCO added “Washoku” (Japanese cuisine) to their Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list alongside the French and Mexican cuisine. In 2019 Tokyo beat Paris becoming the first city in the world with the most Michelin-starred restaurants. For western countries, the Japanese cuisine, based on fresh seasonal ingredients masterly prepared by chefs that have been trained for years, is one of the most admired. Here are two delicacies you should consider trying in their origin country on your next trip to Japan.
FUGU: the deadly fish
Fugu is a pufferfish that has tetrodotoxin, one of the most poisonous neurotoxins, in its liver, roe, ovaries, and intestines. While alive the fish uses the substance to keep predators at a safe distance but, while being a delicious meal, the improper dosage of tetrodotoxin can kill more than 30 people. A victim, due to muscle paralysis, is unable to breath and dies of asphyxiation. That is why chefs are required to train for several years to learn the particular preparation techniques in order to get their license and prepare fugu in a restaurant. Before serving the fish, these elite chefs are required to taste it proving that it’s safe to consume. Fugu is usually served as sashimi arranged as transparent petals like a chrysanthemum flower on a large dish. Being a seasonal dish, it’s only consumed during winter, making this dish even more exclusive. Although usually served as sashimi, fugu can also be baked, deep-fried, or served in a salad.
The17th century Japanese poet Basho composed a traditional haiku poem about it: “I enjoyed fugu and soup yesterday. Luckily, nothing has happened.”
Kuroge Washu WAGYU: the overindulged cow
Wagyu is Japan’s renowned and most expensive beef in the world. The cattle are raised with specific diets and handled differently than traditional procedures. There are four breeds that are native to Japan, but the truly remarkable one is Kuroge Washu. The delectable flavor and tenderness are delivered by the high amount of intramuscular fat, which makes it healthier than other meats for the concentration of monounsaturated fats and omega-3s, giving the wagyu the famous marbled appearance. There are three urban legends around the mysterious rearing techniques to achieve this incomparable beef:
- The cows are served ice cold beer to induce appetite
- They get daily massages to prevent stress which would make loose the dish’s famous tenderness
- During feeding time, classical music is played to help the cattle relax and associate that state with eating resulting in an improved appetite
True or not, it all adds up to the imagery of these cows overindulged like kings, adding romanticism and value to the meal.
And if you’d like to close your meal with some fruit make sure not to miss tasting some Ruby Roman grapes, each one reaches the size of a ping pong ball, a slice of a squared watermelon (yes, it’s grown that way to make it easier to store it in the refrigerator) and one of the $26,000 Yubari King melons, the most juicy and sweet cantaloupe you’ll ever have.