Ponzu, a refreshing sauce of vinegared citrus that pairs well with Japanese cuisine, is a seasoning much loved by Osakans. No wonder, perhaps, that it too contains a kombu-and-skipjack-flake stock. The word combined a now defunct Dutch word for a type of cocktail of distilled liquor, citrus juice, and sugar with the Japanese word for vinegar. Supermarket shelves in Osaka are often lined with 20 different types of ponzu, which is a popular accompaniment that is used creatively to accent numerous dishes such as pork, chicken, seafood, salads, and more. Able to be adapted to many different types of foods, ponzu is a must-have item for tecchiri, the pufferfish hot pot enjoyed in Osaka during winter. Pufferfish is plentiful in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi prefecture, but some 60% of the total catch is consumed in Osaka. With its gentle sweetness and distinct crunchy texture, Osakans simply cannot get enough of pufferfish combined with the taste of ponzu. The fish pairs particularly well with the vivid, crisp acidity of the sudachi citrus fruit produced in Tokushima prefecture.
Fugu specialty restaurants have their own loyal followings of clientele who are drawn toward the different unique tastes of the house-made ponzu and chirizu (a sauce of citrusy shoyu). As for the reason why fugu hot pot is referred to as tecchiri, first a bit of history. Warrior Toyotomi Hideyoshi issued an edict in the 16th century outlawing the consumption of fugu, and the fish was similarly considered taboo during the later Edo period due to the shame that would befall samurai if they were to consume poison. Because Osaka was a town of merchants, however, little attention was paid to the decrees issued by those in the warrior class. The thinking held that “if you are poisoned, you’ll die”—much in the same way that one would be resigned to dying from a gunshot wound. Thus the name “tetchiri” was born—with the “te” coming from the “te” in “teppo”, or gun—and Osakans continued to eat it with gusto. The popularity of this dish may be said to represent a prime example of the rebellious anti-authoritarian tendencies of the Osaka region.
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