Pufferfish: A Deadly Delicacy

It was our second day at Karang Congkak island, whereas we voluntarily stranded eight of us away from weekend work. Karang Congkak is a part of Thousand Islands, Indonesia, and there’s nobody else on that island so we literally can do anything we want. We’re planning to lay down on the sand, catching some waves at our toes, dunk ourselves in cool breeze water, then it all changed when Bang Ali came from Panggang Island that morning. He offered us to go catch some pufferfish, THE poisonous fish. WHOA! Without further ado, four youngsters stood up and screaming “Yaaaassss! Take us with youuuu!” and feeling so excited of the idea snorkeling again in the middle of the ocean and experiencing (read: seeing) how to catch and prepare pufferfish.

[From upper left clockwise]: 1. Rolling around on the sand; 2. Bang Ali's boat on the horizon; 3. Heading to the first spot;
[From upper left clockwise]: 1. Rolling around on the sand; 2. Bang Ali’s boat on the horizon; 3. Heading to the first spot; 4. The corals where puffer fish lives; 5. Bang Ali trying to start the dynamo; 6. Heading to the second spot.
Using a faster engine than yesterday’s boat, we arrived at the fresh waters between Panggang Island and Pramuka Island 30 minutes later. Beyond the coral underneath us, we can recognize that it’s one of the coral range because the waves are higher and have a brighter color than the blue ocean surround. Soon Bang Ali left us on the boat, he allowed us snorkeling around the boat while he searched further for pufferfish. Using only a spear with a hook tip, he free dived among the corals and never come back (hahah just kidding). The water depth only one to two meters, but we’re unfortunate on our first trial.

So we moved to a nearby coral area which is 10 minutes from Karang Congkak. The corals are more beautiful, regarding its quite a distance from the main islands. We’re only playing a little in the water, then suddenly Bang Ali came and lift his spear with a puffer fish caught on its tail! We joyfully congratulate him and awed at our very first pufferfish we’ve ever seen. He jumped over and came back with two more in consecutive straight! *standing ovation*

[Upper left clockwise]: 1. Bang Ali with his spear; 2. Puffer fish from the frontside; 3. Puffer fish from the left side; 4. When it's deflated, compared with fin size 38.
[Upper left clockwise]: 1. Bang Ali with his spear; 2. Pufferfish from the frontside; 3. Pufferfish from the left side; 4. When it’s deflated, compared with fin size 38.
Pufferfish is the second most poisonous vertebrate on the planet. Fishermen use thick gloves to avoid poisoning and the risk of getting bitten when handling pufferfish. The poison of a pufferfish, tetrodotoxin which has no antidote, kills by paralyzing the diaphragm and causing suffocation. That neurotoxin is located in the fish’s organs, especially its ovaries, liver, and even in its skin. One wrong cut and the entire fish is contaminated.

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Using a small knife, Bang Ali started to cut off the pufferfish skin. First, he removed its fins and tail and stripped the skin from flesh. It’s more ‘decent’ doing it on the boat than on the island, also pufferfish skin needed to be thrown to the sea so it may devour. The sound of the knife when slicing the pufferfish skin is identical like cutting the wood, so no wonder the skin is used as wallet, waterproof objects, or helmet (this one is stated by Bang Ali hahahah). The unique thing was the pufferfish still biting whether the skin has been removed from the body, so it’s another thing to be careful of likewise the skin. Pufferfish teeth are so powerful which are used for crushing the shells of crustaceans and mollusks. Then he carefully removed the intestinal tract, except the liver. Some (including Bang Ali) consider that liver is the tastiest part, but it is also the most poisonous, and serving this organ in restaurants was banned in Japan.

Well, let’s trust the locals and see if we can survive the pufferfish liver!

After all fishes had their skin off, we’re headed back to the island and getting our lunch ready! Pufferfish also called ‘sea pig’ which really is fattening and it could make a village burnt down cause it’ll make fire on its own just by throwing it into the ashes! That’s why we’ll need a bucket of water to splash on it while we grill pufferfish. If the Japanese eat it in the form of sashimi, then we’re using sticks to make pufferfish satay with fresh sea water seasoning and a lil’ bit soy sauce. There’s no need fancy seasoning to eat pufferfish.

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The fragrance of grilled pufferfish is sweet and not so fishy, different with other grilled fish. The texture is just like chicken, but it has more juice than lamb or cow. We chowed down all of the fish parts, even the head and cartilage bones. Now we’re all get to the highlight part: there’s no nausea or fatal cause after consuming meat and liver of pufferfish, so we can say that Bang Ali nailed it! Whoohoo we survived! And I must say: pufferfish liver is the most amazing part that just melts away and makes my tongue dances in a joy. Yum yum! I could say it’s once in a lifetime experience, eating pufferfish liver, considering the danger behind *tears* What an amazing experience that we’ve got and I’m happy to see my brothers and sisters having fun with mother nature *smile*

If you dare to try this delicacy, you should go to Japan and pay a visit to restaurants specialize in pufferfish/ fugu, or more importantly are licensed to serve fugu. Visit this blog to find out what you’re getting into. Also, I’ve searched if there are any restaurants that serve pufferfish in Jakarta, they are Gon Myongi and Dong Hae Bok Jib, both Korean restaurants. Please keep in mind to ask them first whether they have permission to serve pufferfish or not. Ours (read: Bang Ali) is not licensed at all and we’re so damn lucky! Plus, don’t ask for liver and other innards in those restaurants. It’s not worth your life >.<

Good luck and have fun!

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