Some thrill-seekers throw themselves from aeroplanes, some tie elastic to their ankles and leap from bridges, and some eat pufferfish…
When before, have you turned up at a restaurant and started the evening with a brief chat with the on-site St. Johns Ambulance guy (whose presence was insisted upon by the insurance company), before having to sign some sort of waiver that I can only imagine would read more or less along the lines of ‘if you die, you can’t blame us’? Never? No, nor me – I should think it would be enough to (almost) make me lose my appetite… So, if you think you’ve been subjected to some precarious cuisine in dodgy restaurants before, that sub-standard food hygiene rating is no match for the hazards that the daring diners at Café De Mort faced last month.
The perilous pop-up restaurant, hosted by the Remember a Charity foundation in London, inspired me to do a little of my own investigation into of some of the most deadly foods, of which I have compiled a somewhat morbid list. And no, I’m not talking an obesity-is-the-biggest-killer-and-therefore-these-popular-highly-fatty-foods-are-actually-indirectly-responsible-for-many-deaths-type compilation. I’m talking poisonous, instant-death-inducing delicacies. No messing.
Fugu, or pufferfish to you and me, is a high-end Japanese delicacy. It’s been a popular seafood snack for centuries, despite the fact that there’s a large price to pay for tucking in – both literally (this stuff ain’t cheap) and metaphorically (the risk of death and all that). Special licensing laws have been introduced in Japan, meaning that to prepare this toxic treat, chefs have to have gone through years of rigorous training. I’m not sure how rigorous is rigorous enough mind, considering the slow, choking process of muscle paralysis that you’ll experience if they make a fumbling error while cooking up your dinner. Luckily, seeing as we’re talking about a toxin 1,200 times more powerful than cyanide, the EU has seen fit to ban fugu in our neck of the woods.
Sure, it’s super nutritious and counts for one of your five-a-day, but scoff the whole thing and you’ll never get to enjoy the remaining four, that’s for sure. Every part of it other than the white, fleshy stuff inside is abundant with alkaloid toxins, which will result in a not-so-healthy dose of seizures, vomiting and hypoglycaemia. Oh yeah, and death. But there’s more than one fatal stumbling block with this precarious produce; those who eat any part of it before it’s properly ripe can say goodbye to their nicely functioning liver and hello to those pearly gates, too.
If you’re out in the wilderness with nothing to eat other than the mushrooms growing in those damp, dark shadows, and you’re (rightly) fearful of picking the wrong ones then worry not: the poisonous varieties are clearly differentiable from the safe ones by their titles. A hardcore name = a don’t-mess-with-me mushroom. The destroying angel, death cap, deadly dapperling and fool’s mushroom have all been thoughtfully branded so we can clearly identify which ones may be not be the wisest accompaniment to our steak. If only Mother Nature would stick labels on them for us, because to a novice (those of us who do not spend their days studying fungi. ie 99.999% of the population) loads of them look pretty similar to the type you’ll find in Tesco, like the sweetly named button mushroom. Nawww, what a cutie. Don’t be fooled!
You know when you have a really rare steak and you joke that it’s still moo-ing? Well that’s not far off how the Koreans like their squid. Although instead of moo-ing, it’s squirming. Squirming around right there on your plate. The severed tentacles of sannakji are served completely raw with a little sesame oil, a touch of chilli paste and a lot of nerve activity. Hence, these feisty feelers don’t go down without a fight; they’ll sucker themselves to the inside of your throat and choke you to death if you’re not a thorough chewer. Numerous people die every year from such occurrences. This is certainly not a quick bite to throw down your neck on the go, or after a few beers. Full attention is needed with this squirmy snack.
So, exotic seafood, strange-looking fruits and fungi – no surprises on the list so far, then. But wait just a second – could it be that these household favourites and kitchen-cupboard staples could also cause culinary casualties?
Yes, this delightfully tangy custard cohort, this misjudged partner of pastry, has a darker and considerably less sweet side to it. Look beyond the tasty (and perfectly safe to consume) pink stalks and you’ll find some rather lethal leaves growing from their ends. Fried, baked, flambéed or completely raw, the poison in these will survive any preparation methods. And you really don’t want to be consuming oxalic acid in any form, not unless you deem seizures, breathing problems, severe swelling, coma and death as positive outcomes, anyway…
We’ve all got a jar in our kitchen cupboards or spice rack, so it’s surprising to discover that nutmeg, in large doses, can have quite an unpleasant effect on your central nervous and cardiovascular systems – both of which happen to be rather essential to the practice of being alive.
Everyone knows chillies have a bit of a kick to them, but not many are aware that if you go overboard, it’s not only the streaming eyes, runny nose, sweats and sensation of someone attacking your tongue with a blowtorch you have to worry about. The spiciness and heat is caused by a toxic chemical in chillies, that can induce severe stomach pain and even death if you eat too many of the wrong type. Gulp. So try to steer clear of any chilli-eating competitions, boys and girls; it’s not big and it’s not clever.