Bold, Umami-Laden Spice Kits to Make Traditional Asian Dishes at Home
When walking down the “ethnic” aisles of mainstream grocery stores, sisters Vanessa and Kim Pham always felt a palpable disconnect between the bland offerings they saw on the shelves and the bold, umami-laden dishes they grew up with in their first-generation Vietnamese American home. “A lot of these products were not made with folks like us in the room,” Kim told Vogue about the experience.
With the aim of reclaiming the complexity, integrity, and nuances of Asian cuisine, the two founded Omsom in May 2020. Named after the Vietnamese word om-sòm, which translates to “noisy, rambunctious, or riotous,” the company makes dynamically flavored recipe starters that take the form of rip-and-pour packets of often hard-to-find spices and sauces, designed to help home cooks create a variety of Asian dishes with punches of flavor that are closer to those of the meals’ origins.
To ensure the utmost authenticity and quality of ingredients, the co-founders worked with acclaimed chefs whose connection to their respective dishes runs deep. For the company’s inaugural Southeast Asian line, the Phams teamed up with New York chefs, creating a lemongrass BBQ sauce with Jimmy Ly of the Vietnamese restaurant Madame Vo, a sisig (pork and calamansi hash) starter with Nicole Ponseca of the Filipino gastropub Jeepney, and a larb (minced meat salad) kit with Chat and Ohm Suansilphong of the Thai seafood spot Fish Cheeks.
A few months later, Omsom launched an East Asian line, which includes a yuzu misoyaki (sweet and savory glaze) made with Maiko Kyogoku of the Japanese comfort food restaurant Bessou, a mala (smashed cucumber) salad made with Amelie Kang of the Chinese-inspired MáLà Project, and a KBBQ lover’s dream: a spicy bulgogi (marinated meat) blend, made with Deuki Hong of the San Francisco Korean barbecue joint Sunday Bird. In tandem with the latter release, the company added a krapow (chili-basil stir-fry) starter in partnership with Pepper Teigen, Chrissy Teigen’s mother and the author of The Pepper Thai Cookbook, to its Southeast Asian series.
Each starter comes with at least two recipes—typically one featuring a meat protein, and one featuring vegetables or fish—that take no longer than 20 minutes to whip up. To make the lemongrass BBQ pork, for example, simply marinate the meat in the Omsom mix, broil or stir-fry, and serve atop rice noodles with fresh lettuce, cucumber, cilantro, mint, and crushed peanuts. For the meatless version, sauté tofu in a skillet until golden, add the starter, and stir to coat. If you can’t decide which packet to begin with, Omsom offers sampler sets that let users try out flavors without committing to the three-pouch pack that the individual starters come in.
Beyond its invigorating flavors and punchy packaging, Omsom helps bring Eastern flavors into Western kitchens at a time when the term “Asian American” is continually being called into question. Indeed, this idea lies at the core of the sisters’ work: “Our ambition for Omsom,” Kim says, “is to usher in a new era of the American pantry that better maps to the changing DNA of this country—one in which proud, loud Asian flavors have a rightful place.”