These Starter Kits Make Cooking Iconic Asian Dishes Mind-Blowingly Easy

Omsom’s sauce packets are about to revolutionize your pantry.

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August 04, 2020

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Omsom

Photo courtesy of Omsom

As a Chinese American, I grew up, naturally, around Chinese food – a majority of which was cooked by my mom, an immigrant, and the rest by frequenting Chinese bakeries, religiously going to dim sum (or “yum cha” in Cantonese) every weekend and chowing down at the loud, lively restaurants that served dishes my parents deemed close enough to the food from home. The Chinese food I was raised on didn’t consist of American favorites like General Tso’s or Orange Chicken. In fact, I hardly think of these dishes, although delicious in their own right, when I’m craving Chinese, specifically Cantonese, food.

Instead, I want dan tat (Hong Kong-style egg tarts), doufu fa (sweet tofu pudding), sup chow ngau ho (saucy beef stir-fried flat noodles) and pei dan sau yuk juk (salted pork and thousand-year-old egg congee). The Chinese food that reminds me of home is hard to find outside of my mother’s kitchen and a handful of local restaurants. And if I try to recreate any of the dishes myself, it usually requires a lengthy call with my mom to decipher the Chinese grocery store, or extra patience for all the ingredients I had to order online.

It’s no secret that I, and many fellow Americans, love Chinese food. But the barriers to make it at home, between a lack of well-known American household educators and access to, let alone an understanding of, ingredients – are significant. There’s a desire in the U.S. for authentic Asian cooking – but there’s a gap that’s dying to be filled.

That’s where Omsom comes in. Founded by sisters Vanessa and Kim Pham, the startup aims to help home cooks make uncompromising Asian dishes in their very own kitchens – seamlessly.

Omsom, named after a Vietnamese phrase meaning “noisy” and “rambunctious,” kicks down barriers by selling starter packets that consist of “all the sauces, aromatics, seasonings, citruses, and oils that decades of tradition call for.” With the help of an easy recipe card, consumers just need to add proteins and vegetables to complete each dish (all of which only require 30 minutes of cooking time or less).

The pantry shortcuts contain all the “hard-to-get” ingredients. And reputable expert chefs are behind each of the starter mixes and recipes. Jimmy Ly of Madame Vo, Vietnamese comfort food and barbecue restaurants in Manhattan’s East Village, developed the starter for Lemongrass BBQ, “a bold aromatic twist on grilled barbecue.” James Beard-nominated cookbook author Nicole Ponseca of Jeepney, a kitschy Filipino restaurant also in the East Village, created the starter for Sisig, “a rich umami bomb kissed by tart calamansi.” Chat and Ohm Suansilphong of Fish Cheeks, a Thai family-style seafood restaurant in Manhattan’s NoHo, made the packet for Larb, “a fiery minced salad finished with nutty toasted rice powder.”

The brand prides itself on delivering “proud, loud” Asian flavors. That is, “no more diluted dishes” and “no more cultural compromise.” Citing, for instance, that many Thai dishes in the U.S. are made to be “very sweet to match mainstream American palates,” Omsom and its tastemaking partners bring unbending representations of their respective cuisines. Here, you can expect excellent food – and dishes you’d never imagine you’d be able to recreate at home.

Like the Lemongrass BBQ. Fans of Vietnamese cuisine, who are unfamiliar with how to make it at home, are in luck. When I tried Jimmy Ly’s starter, I was nothing short of amazed to taste the same flavors I’d had only in restaurants. And the dish was so easy to make. I only had to marinate sliced pork shoulder with the starter, and then sear the meat in a hot skillet for six minutes. I put the finished product over a bed of greens, mint and cilantro (as suggested by the recipe card), along with sliced cucumbers, crushed peanuts and a squeeze of lime and – I can’t tell you enough how truly, eyes-rolling-to-the-back-of-my-head good it was. The meat was savory, but with a tart zing. And coupled with the refreshing, herby bowl, it became the type of salad you don’t gruel over, but the kind that hits all the right notes and makes your taste buds sing.

I bought four more sets within the hour.

Every starter Omsom offers is just like this. The Suansilphongs’ Larb – a dish that came together in no time and was mind-bogglingly easy – was a spicy ground chicken salad that I didn’t know could taste this incredible. And Nicole Ponseca’s Sisig – a sour, ultra-rich pork belly stir fry proved seriously satisfying.

And best of all, Omsom can not only serve as a means to conveniently recreating restaurant favorites in your own kitchen – but also an entry point for a whole host of delightful, unfamiliar dishes.

In the fall, the brand is planning to expand its line to Korean, Japanese and Chinese cuisine. But until then, get cooking with their Southeast Asian starters – and quick! The sauces, restocked just last week, have previously sold out in 72 hours.

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