For centuries, the samurais were not allowed to eat fugu because of risk of death. And still today, a handful of diners die every year from asphyxiation. The fugu, or pufferfish, has tetrodotoxin in its liver, skin and ovaries which causes paralysis while leaving the victim fully conscious. Scary, indeed, if it is not handled the proper way, but you are safe at Usukifugu Yamadaya since their licensed Chef is among the best in the world when it comes to the lethal fish.
The Yamada family opened up their first restaurant already in 1905 in the Oita prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu. The original restaurant is located in Usuki. It was not until the second generation the Yamada family started to serve fugu to its guests. Shintaro Yamada was the third generation of the family and he expanded the business and opened up a second restaurant in 1993 in Oita not too far away from the first restaurant. The Tokyo branch was opened in 2006 and is run by the fourth generation, Fumie Yamada. The family has managed to keep the traditions of genuine usuki-fugu over the years and Head Chef Yoshio
Kusakabe prepares the fugu in all ways imaginable.
Head Chef Yoshio Kusakabe was born in 1964 and he has worked in the kitchen since he was 20 years old. He got most of his training from Shinbashi Kanetanaka and has devoted his life to the Japanese cuisine and in particular the preparing of the pufferfish. He got his fugu license when he was 25 years old and has been the head of the Usukifugu Yamadaya since its opening in 2006.
There are two Japanese and two Western style private dining rooms at Usukifugu Yamadaya, but we recommend you to make a reservation at the counter in front of the Chef. There are just five seats, but you will thank your lucky star for securing a seat in front of a true fugu master. It is fascinating to watch the Chef at work and you should order their set course menu which will take you on a tour with all sorts of fugu cooking – grilled, cooked, deep-fried, raw and toasted. All variations you can think of and not all will take you away to taste bud heaven, but all you have will fascinate and inspire you.
The fugu season is wintertime, and other seafood is offered as well depending on the season. The pufferfish is flown in daily to Tokyo from Usuki where the original restaurant is located and where there are ideal conditions for fugu thanks to Japan’s inland sea which meets the Pacific Ocean just outside the city.
The fugusashi (sashimi of fugu) is something you must try as well as the deep-fried version called karage, but you should also try the hot and sweet sake from Oita which is flavoured with fugu fins. The drink is called Hirezake and something you will not forget. A visit to Usukifugu Yamadaya is a memorable experience for all first timers of fugu and it is an essential reservation for all regulars of the dangerous and exclusive fish.
Written by Andy