Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How About a Plate Of Fake Raw Liver With That Beer?

Japan is about to prohibit the sale of sliced raw liver at restaurants, after a few food poisoning incidents at cheap chain pubs where raw meats were improperly prepared and patrons got sick as a result.

It may sound reasonable top you, but raw liver is a very popular side dish, and considering how many people eat it every year the number of incidents is very small. Look at fugu, the poisonous puffer fish, fir a much better approach than a ban. Improper preparation of fugu can be lethal, but selling it and serving it is allowed as long as the cook has a license to prepare it. As a result, fugu poisoning is all but unheard of; the only incidents are with amateurs trying it at home and failing.

Why not institute a license for preparing raw meat dishes in the same manner? It would put the responsibility for the safety squarely on the cook and restaurant with no wiggle room for deviation from best practices. And the cost — licensed cooks are sure to command higher salaries — would keep the dish away from the cheapest chain eateries where the risk of cutting corners is the greatest.

"Raw liver" made from konnyaku. Good,but not a substitute for the real thing. This, by the way, shows the limits of phone cameras; the Nexus is fine in good light, but really starts to fall apart when light levels drop.

Meanwhile, an enterprising company has produced a variety of konnyaku (plant-based chewy stuff; good in stews and side dishes) with a texture and color similar to real liver. Some chains are now serving it spiced in the same way as a substitute for the real thing.

I tried it this weekend. Not bad at all, and it certainly resembles the real thing both in texture and flavour. But it is obviously not the same thing — nobody would be fooled by it — and real liver is much tastier. The real thing isn't as uniform; both texture and flavours are a lot more varied and complex throughout each bite. I certainly prefer the real thing.


  1. Hello Janne,

    Interesting article. What about some fake raw liver featured here:

    You definitely wouldn't want to eat this one! :)

    Have a good one from another fellow Osakan!

  2. Janne, the problem with these livers is that they come from sick cattle, thus no amount of "safe" preparation is going to help assure the eating public that eating them raw will help. As we have no other way of excluding the unsafe livers (from sick cattle, hey they are all over the place, unfortunately) and if you want to eat raw liver, why not go to China...

  3. Martin, one one hand you _can_ choose only livers from cattle certified as healthy beforehand; it'll cost more, but it can certainly be done. And it would have the same effect as certification itself: push the dish away from the one-dish-300yen and all you can eat places where preparation is most likely to be lacking anyhow.

    And on the other, consider the number of people eating the dish every year and the fact that there's no recent documented case of anybody getting sick. The actual — as opposed to inferred — risk is quite low. If possible risk is the the overriding criteria, we should not allow raw vegetables either.


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