Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ring in the New Year with Peko Peko’s Lavish Bento Box

By Luke Tsai
Tue, Dec 18, 2012 at 7:00 AM

For the homebody or the agoraphobe or anyone else who, quite sanely, abhors the idea of standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands of drunken strangers to watch some ball drop, Peko Peko, an Oakland-based Japanese catering company, offers an elegant alternative: a luxurious Japanese New Year’s bento box you can enjoy in the peace and quiet of your own home, with or without a nice bottle of sake, in the company of a few friends and loved ones.

Priced at $300 for each handmade, three-layer cedar box that holds about fifteen different dishes (enough food to feed four or five people), the bento is, without question, a splurge — but an appealing one for Japanese food aficionados who who want all the joyous extravagance of a fancy New Year’s Eve dinner without any of the hassle.

The New Years bento menu for this year includes about fifteen different dishes.
  • Aya Brackett
  • The New Year's bento menu for this year includes about fifteen different dishes.
Sylvan Mishima Brackett, Peko Peko’s founder and chef, explained that traditionally in Japan the New Year’s holiday was always the one time of the year when women weren’t required to work. So in the days leading up to January 1, housewives would prepare a number of traditional dishes ahead of time and store them in beautiful lacquered boxes. (In Japan, unlike China, Korea, and many of the other Asian countries, the New Year has been celebrated in accordance with the Gregorian calendar since the late 19th century.)

“Now, a lot of people buy their bento from the big department stores,” Mishima Brackett said, pointing out that in Japan even 7-Eleven sells (rather amazing-looking) New Year’s bento boxes.

Like the New Year’s bentos in Japan, Peko Peko’s bento boxes will come filled with osechi ryori — foods traditionally eaten to ring in the New Year, many of which have auspicious meanings. For instance, this year’s box will include jikase ikura — plump, salt-and-dashi-cured steelhead roe — which is symbolic of fertility and will be presented, strikingly, in a cup made from a yuzu peel. Another dish, kuromame, consists of sweet black beans — imported from the Shiga prefecture of Japan — that take four days to cook (a process that includes soaking the beans with a nail to preserve their blackness); these are symbolic of health. Finally, the tetsukuri kamaboko, a handmade fish cake, served with a tiny fresh wasabi root for grating, symbolizes the rising sun.

All of the dishes are meant to be eaten at room temperature.

Coming soon to a bento box near you.
  • Coming soon to a bento box near you.
Mishima Brackett said that a simple osechi bento box was one of the very first projects he undertook when he founded Peko Peko four years ago. This year’s bento is the most sumptuous version yet, as many of the dishes include obscure imported ingredients and high-end local seafood. Probably the most luxurious dish of all: a Santa Barbara spiny lobster, served whole in the shell for a dramatic presentation.

In addition, Mishima Bracket worked with his father, an expert on Japanese carpentry and woodwork, to build all of the cedar boxes by hand.

Customers who order boxes will be able to pick them up on December 31 at specified locations in San Francisco and Oakland. The specific pickup spot in Oakland has yet to be finalized.

This year Mishima Brackett is making fifty of the boxes, available for pre-order on a first-come, first-served basis. He expects to sell out early (last year, he sold his last box on Christmas Eve), so if you’re interested, plan to reserve your box (by sending an email to hello@eatpekopeko.com) well in advance.

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