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To ban or not to ban, that is the question

By Ye Jun (China Daily)

09:40, April 16, 2012

Delicately sliced and arranged like a crane for this sashimi platter, fugu is pretty as a picture.(Photos Provided to China Daily)

It's not on any menu, and fugu or puffer fish is still technically outlawed for restaurants in China. However, determined diners can still enjoy this spring delicacy - at their own risk. Ye Jun tells us how and where.

You cannot find it on any menu, and as far as the authorities are concerned, any restaurant serving this dangerous delicacy is breaching the regulations. But you will find that fugu is widely available in mid-end Chinese restaurants specializing in seafood. While some restaurants play hide-and-seek with government inspectors, some have placed it in broad daylight, in the hope that the puffer fish will pass official approval soon. Five years ago, enforcement was swift. Beijing-based food writer Zhao Ziyun wrote a review about a restaurant serving fugu. A day after the review was published, local sanitation inspectors confiscated the fish and slapped the restaurant with an 8,000 yuan ($1,269) fine.

Zhao says neither he nor the restaurant owner had any idea the fish was banned in Beijing.

Five years later, the ban has not been lifted but fugu is more popular than ever in the capital city.

"Almost all high-end restaurants specializing in fresh river fish offer fugu, with prices ranging from 100 yuan ($16) to more than 1,000 ($159)," says Zhao. "People all know about the situation, so it is usually not on the menu."

At Lao Lao Fu, for example, a high-end hotpot restaurant at the Asian Games Village in Beijing, you cannot find the word hetun on the menu. (Hetun literally translates to river hog.)

But, hidden among photographs of many other hotpots is a tiny inconspicuous puffer fish. The English translation says it's a "globefish" stock.

In the private rooms, and in a privately circulated magazine for the restaurant's VIP diners, leaflets show a pretty plate of fugu sashimi, which Lao Lao Fu says is one of its top three sellers.

Liu Xu, Lao Lao Fu's specialist fugu chef, got his fugu preparation license from labor authorities in Northeast China's Liaoning province, and follows strict procedures in preparation.

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