Mehari-zushi, a favorite dish of the people in the Kumano region of southern Mie. Flavored sushi rice wrapped in Takana mustard leaf deliciousness!

Mehari-zushi, a favorite dish of the people in the Kumano region of southern Mie. Flavored sushi rice wrapped in Takana mustard leaf deliciousness!

When in the Kumano region of Mie prefecture it is only appropriate that you eat like the locals do. Come with me as I travel to the very southern tip of Mie and eat a local favorite. Mehari-zushi is flavored sushi rice wrapped in pickled Takana mustard leaves and it is a traditional dish from the Kumano region.

Written by Kevin Jackson

-Author's Introduction
California, USA, 14 years in Japan. I love Japan! I naturally have an interest in history and geography, and try to spend a fair amount of my free time exploring Japan and delving into those aforementioned interests to find out what makes this country so interesting. The more curious you are the more interesting life becomes. I have spent the last 14 years here doing just that, and plan to continue to explore.

Traveling in the southern region of Mie prefecture was amazing. There is so much history and tradition in this part of Japan. Many of the places that I visited go back at least 1000 years. There are not too many places in the world that the same can be said. 

All of the places that I visited were stunning, however many of the jewels in this part of the country are hidden deep in forests, atop fairly large mountains, or only accessible by river. 

By the time I made it all the way down to Kumano city near the border of Wakayama prefecture, I was drained and starved due to a long day of cycling, hiking and sailing. This area around the border between Wakayama prefecture is known for a special type of cuisine and I will do my best to introduce you to this local favorite in this article.

Prior to making the trip to Mie I had never heard of this local favorite. As I would learn as I traveled through this part of Mie prefecture, the locals were very particular and proud of the local cuisine. 

Mehari-zushi is flavored sushi rice wrapped in pickled Takana mustard leaves and it is a traditional dish from the Kumano region. Mehari-zushi was initially created to be a big, quick lunch. Today it is made in smaller pieces so people can enjoy them without straining the muscles around their mouths to eat them.

Literally translated from Japanese, Me-Wo-Ha-Ru or the simplified version Mehari means to open your eyes wide. 

The origin of the name is still unknown, but the two competing theories are that one needs to open his/her mouth quite wide in order to eat the dish therefore naturally causing the eyes to open wide as well. Another theory is that Mehari-zushi is so delicious that your eyes open wide in wonderment due to the unbelievable taste.

 I’m not sure which one is correct, but my curiosity was sparked and I made my way to the restaurant Kappo Yamaguchi in Kumano city to taste this local favorite.

When I arrived I was greeted and welcomed into the restaurant. The restaurant had a very casual and homey feel to it. It felt like I was visiting a friends house rather than a sushi restaurant. I was led upstairs and offered a cup of hot tea.

Spread before me on the table was a hot towel which is customary for Japanese restaurants, and a platter of what looked to be an array of ingredients used for the making of Mehari-zushi. The ingredients were fairly simple and I became even more curious as to how these things were made and if the taste is as simple as it looks.

To put things in perspective on the simplicity of Mehari-zushi, before I actually ate one I was briefed on how each one was made. The recipe is starts with mixing a bit a sake and mirin in a pot and heating it to a boil. From there add a bit of soy sauce and reheat to a boil. After a few minutes turn off the heat and let the contents of the pot cool down.

The next step deals with the Takana mustard leaves. Put the leaves in running water for about 10 minutes to desalt. Strain out the water, spread out each individual leaf and marinate them in the cooled sauce and refrigerate them for a day. After that cut off the core and the edges of the Takana leaves and cut the leaves in half.

Next, take warm rice balls sometimes stuffed with condiments and cover it with a tablespoon of the sauce. Lastly, wrap the balls with Takana leaves and cover the outside with another teaspoon of sauce. That’s it! Fairly easy.

Now on to the best part of the evening. I finally get to bite into one of these giant balls of rice and taste Mehari-zushi. As I bite into my first one I am encouraged to open my eyes wide. The size of the ball wasn’t that big, and hadn’t yet tasted the treat so I’m pretty sure I was being encouraged to open my eyes wide for the camera.

Surprisingly my eyes did open a bit once I tasted my first ever Mehari-zushi. There was so much flavor packed into this thing. The Takana leaves were a bit tough to navigate around at first, but I was able to figure out a way to cut through the rough covering after a couple of bites.

In the middle of the rice ball was a concoction of minced vegetables which had been pickled. I quickly finished up with my first one and proceeded onto my second one. I can see why the locals like this dish. It’s really simple to make and it’s delicious.

I slept well that night thanks in part to what the people of the Kumano region have known for many years. Do not pass on the chance to try Mehari-zushi. You will not be disappointed.

You can also eat Kappo Mehari-zushi at Oharai-machi at the Ise Grand shrine. Early every morning workers make their way to Ise Grand shrine to set up shop and sell their delicious Mehari-zushi. Please stop when you make your way to the Ise Jingu.

Address: Mie-ken, Ise-shi, Uji-Imazaikechou 37

Tourist attractions covered by this article