Pufferfish back on the menu — legally

Updated 2017-04-13 09:00:48 Shanghai Daily

Pufferfish are legally back on local menus.

Despite the fish not being allowed to be sold as food on the open market since 1990, many restaurants flouted regulations by selling pufferfish cuisine secretly to favored diners.

Spring is regarded as the best season for pufferfish cuisine, a traditional delicacy in China. However, as most species of pufferfish are toxic, the delicacy can be fatal if the flesh is not properly treated. There is even a Chinese saying — "risking life for a bite of pufferfish."

The ban was relaxed last September as two species of pufferfish opened to the market again, but only qualified companies were allowed to breed and process the fish.

"The texture of pufferfish is juicy and delicious, particularly the skin," said a diner, Quentin Li, at a restaurant on Shangcheng Road. The restaurant had bought pufferfish from Zhongyang Group, one of the five qualified companies to breed and process pufferfish. However, Li admitted he had been eating pufferfish when the ban was imposed.

An executive surnamed Lin from the Jiangsu-based pufferfish breeding company said his firm had bred pufferfish for years, and its products had passed all toxicity exams set by authorities. Lin added the food ban on pufferfish had restricted the industry's development, but Shanghai would be a major market for the fish species.

Some of the firm's products were sold overseas, especially in Japan, which also has a tradition of eating pufferfish.

The species is highly toxic, especially with regard to internal organs, as they contain tetrodotoxin — which is 1,200 times more poisonous to humans than cyanide.

According to the latest regulations, only two species of pufferfish are allowed to be sold as food. The fish must be detoxicated before entering the market and there must be a QR code on the package to track the products' origin. Fresh pufferfish cannot be sold at wet markets or at any other venue.

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