Sisters Kim and Vanessa Pham never felt accurately portrayed when walking through the aisles of the grocery store. The first-generation Vietnamese-American sisters would glide past the wealth of ingredients and products in stores—products that couldn’t fully represent them, namely because this spice or that bag of noodles weren’t made by people like them, despite being marketed as such.
“We never felt represented by the ‘ethnic’ aisle in mainstream grocery stores—why do they even still exist?” Kim says. “So we were driven to build a company that reclaims the complexity, integrity, and nuances of Asian cuisines and communities.”
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That company is the recently launched Omsom (a Vietnamese phrase that translates to noisy, rambunctious, and riotous), a new kind of pantry staple that Kim and Vanessa hope can be found in everyone’s kitchen—not merely Asian Americans’. “Our mission is to give Asian Americans a modern way to access a real deal taste of home, and to show non-Asian Americans what it means for this category to be done right,” says Kim.
Omsom touts three starters, which the sisters refer to as pantry shortcuts. These starters are packed with all of the aromatics, sauces, and seasonings you’d need for a specific dish, all rolled into one easy-to-store package. Each starter was developed with the help of what Vanessa and Kim call Tastemakers, a group of New York City chefs who hail from different backgrounds.
There’s chef Jimmy Ly of Madame Vo, a Vietnamese restaurant in the East Village; owner Nicole Ponseca who runs Jeepney, a Filipino restaurant; and chefs Chat and Ohm Suansilphong, the brains behind Fish Cheeks, a Thai restaurant in NoHo. Vanessa and Kim worked with these chefs, developing starters and recipes that accurately represented each of their cultures and cultures.
“They have connections to these dishes that run deep, but are also on the cutting edge of what it means to eat modern Thai, Vietnamese, and Filipino cuisine,” Kim says. “They are all collectively pushing the future of these cuisines in America. Modern Asian food doesn’t have to look one way anymore.”
Jimmy Ly of Madame Vo crafted a lemongrass BBQ starter, one packed with bold flavors like Red Boat fish sauce, sesame oil, oyster sauce, lemongrass, garlic, and dark soy sauce. Kim and Vanessa describe it as an aromatic twist on grilled barbecue. You can use the starter in this lemongrass BBQ pork recipe, which only requires the addition of pork shoulder, and pantry staples like salt, pepper, and oil.
Omsom Sampler, $29
The Omsom sampler includes two Vietnamese lemongrass BBQ starters, two Thai larb starters, and two Filipino sisig starters.
Then there’s the sisig starter. Traditionally, sisig is a pork hash spiced with calamansi, onions, and chili peppers, and the starter boasts those same flavors: cane vinegar, garlic, calamansi puree, porcini mushroom powder, and dried chili flakes. Pour the contents of the starter onto sliced pork belly, seared with plenty of onions and a fried egg, to make Omsom’s Filipino pork belly sisig.
Finally, you could opt for the Thai larb starter, which can be sprinkled on softly poached chicken or pork to craft the fiery yet sweet minced salad. Just add the starter to ground chicken, along with scallion stalks, cilantro, shallots, and mint, to make Omsom’s Thai chicken larb, which comes together in just 20 minutes. Chowhound’s editor Jen Wheeler has tried all three of the starters, and has deemed the larb starter her top choice, gushing, “The larb is my favorite, just for the sweet-spicy balance of flavors, but it’s extra fun because it includes toasted rice powder to sprinkle on top. Garnishes are always a bonus.”
While the aforementioned recipes are a great outline for what you can do with the starters, it doesn’t just end with these three dishes. Omsom simply starts the process, allowing home cooks to be as creative and flexible as they want with each starter. Vanessa and Kim have seen customers play with some of the suggested dishes—swapping pork for tofu in the lemongrass BBQ, or pork for squid in the sisig. But you can easily bring your own protein, vegetables, and base to the table, creating your own inspired dish.
“Our community is experimenting with what’s in their own pantries and fridges, from meatballs marinated in the lemongrass BBQ starter and larb made with Impossible Meat,” Vanessa says.
For now, Omsom’s starters are only available directly on their website, retailing at $12 for a pack of three. But the sisters have dreams of both more products and digital retailers to sell the starters. In the meantime, Vanessa and Kim are delighted to share these unapologetically Asian products with Asian Americans, as well as impart these flavors and dishes to a wider community.
“We hope to make [Asian Americans] proud by building products without diluted flavors or cultural compromise. For those who are less familiar with these cuisines or dishes, we hope to spark ownership and excitement for delving into the history and flavors of each dish,” Kim says. “Everyone should have access to proud, loud Asian flavors—sitting right in their pantry between the tomato sauce and olive oil.”
Header image courtesy of Omsom.