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I know that fugu is fairly well known both inside and outside Japan, and wild versions of the fish contains a toxin 1200 times more potent than cyanide. (Fun fact: one species is also the second vertebrate to have its genome sequenced after humans)

What I don't know is whether the fish is famous (and considered a "delicacy") solely because of its potential toxicity, or whether there is something else unique about its meat.

Is there anything unique about fugu meat, such as its flavour or texture?

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    @hippietrail I think "food-unsafety" would be a better tag than "food-safety"! – Andrew Grimm Jun 22 '13 at 13:01
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According to an article about Fugu at Maldova Welcome:

Some people who’ve tried puffer dishes describe it as one of the most sublime flavors in the world. Others, apparently less enthusiastic, or simply more objective, describe fugu meat as a cross between crunchy and chewy, said by the Japanese to go “shiko-shiko” in one’s mouth when absolutely fresh. That’s what some consider the main attraction of the risky meal. But taste isn’t everything. Many say that fugu is simply addictive!

According to YQ Travelling: "Long answer: like rubber when raw but like silk when cooked."

At New York Food (in an indepth article), Adam Platt says:

Hashimoto’s fugu indeed has a certain clean sashimi quality to it, and a resilient chewiness, but otherwise it’s a letdown. It tastes flavorless and gummy, like a cross between Reichl’s fluke and day-old squid.

[ ... ] And then the tingling sensation begins. It starts on my lips and seems to be quickly tracking down the back of my throat. I put down my chopsticks and shift my legs under the table. I bring the tips of my fingers to my mouth and begin touching my lips in a tender, slightly agitated way, like a d dental patient shot full of Novocain.

[ ... ]

our next course, which is a little helping of deep-fried fugu ribs. The bony ribs (“These look like hamster ribs,” I tell Shinji) are hacked in little pieces, tossed in flour, and seasoned with sea salt and a sprinkling of the dried kelp called kombu. The ribs have the nice meaty texture of monkfish, they’re perfectly fried, and they’re delicious. (This may simply prove that anything tastes good fried, including bony, potentially fatal fish ribs.)

However, I suspect the popularity of fugu, especially in Japan is a complex amalgam of factors including:

  • Pride in cultural heritage, since this is a uniquely Japanese practice, although it is spreading
  • The enjoyment of the feeling of numbness that properly prepared fugu leaves in the mouth, from just the tiniest traces of the toxin
  • Popularity of extremely expensive items, which therefore must be special
  • The art of the presentation, which (as the dish is very expensive) is at its highest levels
  • Some people are crazy :-)
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    I was waiting for the last one :) – Dr. belisarius Jun 24 '13 at 3:50
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I think fugu is a specialty served in particular regions in Japan, and so it's one of those things that people like to try on 'regional food travels'.

I have tried fugu sashimi several times, and it is served in a way peculiar to fugu only: sliced paper-thin, and with a special vinegar/soy sauce and condiments. The texture and flavour is a bit similar to extremely fresh snapper - ie. pretty flavourless, and firm/crunchy/rubbery in texture.

So, this is mainly my opinion, but I think in terms of flavour, a certain amount of appeal does exist in the unique way that it is eaten as sashimi (and Japanese love travelling to try unique dishes particular to different areas). I also imagine that until relatively recently it would have been rare, expensive and thus exclusive - though nowadays you can even get it at some regional supermarkets - and a sense of it being a desirable gourmet food is still very present.

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