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“Real Asian flavors that take you home.” The phrase scrolls across Omsom’s website like a news ticker, sandwiched between a tout that orders over $29 ship free and a “shop starters” banner. It’s a simple line of marketing copy, but it made me emit a small yelp of surprise. How often had I encountered a brand that presumed that Asian flavors taste like home?
Omsom sells something it calls starters, which are essentially sauces—packaged in resealable pouches or single-use packets, depending on which product you buy—with all the flavor components needed to make a specific Southeast Asian dish. The bright umami-rich Filipino sisig starter contains vinegar, garlic, mushroom powder, and calamansi purée. The Vietnamese lemongrass barbecue option has just the right amount of savory funk, thanks to Red Boat fish sauce, lemongrass, and oyster sauce. The Thai larb starter consists of not one but two packets, one with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili flakes and the other toasted rice powder for that essential nutty flavor.
Each starter comes with instructions on how to make a composed dish using the seasoning packet. Although the recipes are simple, coming together in the time it takes to sauté some meat and chop some veg, they’re not dumbed down. Omsom doesn’t assume that I would prefer a boneless, skinless chicken breast as the catchall protein (I would not). Two of the recipes call for pork belly—eternally popular in many Southeast Asian cuisines, but aside from a brief brush with trendiness circa 2005, not a mainstream cut for many white Americans—although if you’d like to use the traditional pig’s snout, cheeks, and ears for the sisig, I’m sure Omsom would approve.
That Omsom speaks with a decidedly Asian American voice is thanks to its founders, Vietnamese American sisters Kim and Vanessa Pham. To develop their starters, they sought out chefs who could deliver on Omsom’s promise of “no more diluted dishes, no more cultural compromise”: Nicole Ponseca of Jeepney, Jimmy Ly of Madame Vo, and Chat and Ohm Suansilphong of Fish Cheeks. The results are so satisfying my only quibble is that I wish they came in larger multi-serving jars, like Maya Kaimal simmer sauces or Lao Gan Ma fermented black bean chili sauce.
If you’re not used to having your experience centered, it can be giddy-making when you realize that a company is talking to you. And that can feel pretty radical if you’ve spent a lifetime seeing grocery aisles full of “homestyle” chicken pot pie and “grandma’s” tomato sauce that don’t particularly remind you of home or grandma. This fall the Phams have plans to expand to East Asian cuisines, and I can’t wait to see what Chinese dish they choose to highlight. I’m hopeful that it’ll be just like Mom used to make.
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