I was extremely busy last night and crashed when I returned to my hotel. It’s physically draining to be running around all day, hurrying up, stopping, waiting, springing into action. Tomorrow night will be a very busy day for me as the most important dignitaries arrive here in Busan for the APEC Summit. To read all about the APEC Summit and the goings-on here in Busan, visit http://www.apec.org/ or http://www.apec2005.org/. The latter site goes into much more depth about what’s happening now here in Busan than what I could describe in a single blog entry. It is quite an exciting time to be here in Busan. I’m amazed to be on the front lines watching the action and advance preparations unfold. I’m not a spectator, mind you, but I am watching while I work hard doing my small bit to make sure the show goes on smoothly. The big show, the APEC Economic Leaders’ meeting, is yet to come on November 17, 18, and 19. I will be here all the way through the Summit and will watch the last major plane fly away a few days later.
Yesterday I tried “bokguk,” or pufferfish soup. The pufferfish, also known as the blow fish, is a spiny creature that blows itself up into a balloonish shape when it is frightened by potential predators. The defense mechanism is one way for it to appear larger than life, scaring away the predator. The pufferfish is also poisonous, secreting a poisonous toxin intended to kill its predator. Many Americans know that Japanese enjoy eating pufferfish, better known in Japanese as “fugu.” Stories occasionally come out of Japan claiming that someone died from eating “fugu,” typically caused by the improper preparation of the “fugu” dish. In Japan, chefs receive extensive training on preparing “fugu” properly, removing the poison glands so that the puffin fish meat remains untainted. It is considered a delicacy in Japan.
I did not realize that Koreans also eat pufferfish, although this fact makes perfect sense since Busan is just a few hours by boat off the coast of southern Japan. In Korea, pufferfish is not generally considered a delicacy, and here in Busan, numerous shops serve the fish in a soup for about 5,000 Korean won (about $5.00). The soup includes bean sprouts and chives and can be served either spicy or mild (depending on whether you want to eat it with red pepper paste. It is typically served with rice and a variety of panchan, or side dishes. The pufferfish meat is cut into large chunks and served in the soup. One typically eats every part of the fish except the head, organs, and spine. The meat is delicious. Served fresh, the taste and texture do not taste like fish at all. To use an overused cliche, the meat tastes more like chicken. (Actually, it tastes more like frog leg.) Perhaps best of all, the pufferfish has so few bones that it is very easy to eat.
I’ve wanted to try “fugu” ever since I first read about it when I was a teenager. Perhaps I’m crazy wanting to eat something that kills some people (I think the victims are typically children or the elderly). I have no desire to eat live octopus, which here in Korea the cephalopod is occasionally known to kill an unwary diner if the struggling animal lodges itself in the diner’s throat and suffocates the diner, as happened to an unfortunate Korean man in the past year. I personally think it’s cruel to eat live animals and would rather that my food not move on my plate while eating it. I have the same apprehension whenever my wife’s family eats “drunken shrimp,” a Chinese delicacy featuring live shrimp soaked in alcohol. I just cannot bear to eat an inebriated shrimp starting up at me with those big black eyes, as if to say, “Hey dude, surf’s up!”
According to Wikipedia, all species of pufferfish off the coast of Korea are considered poisonous. It mentions a hilarious episode of “The Simpsons” in which Homer Simpson eats pufferfish and is mistakenly told he has just 24 hours to live. Like Homer Simpson, I too ate pufferfish and lived to tell about it. Perhaps more daringly, I ate pufferfish at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant I’m sure is run by a Korean family as a small business. I’m positive the cook did not attend professional pufferfish culinary training. Well, I survived anyway. Will I try it again sometime? Oh, I suppose I will, depending on the occasion, now that I know how delicious it is. Hopefully next time I will try it at an upscale restaurant, where I would feel more comfortable about how my meal has been prepared.