My Best Dinners Begin with These Filipino, Thai, and Vietnamese Meal Starters
If you're still limiting your visits to the supermarket, or ordering grocery deliveries from a small online selection, you may be bored of the ingredients in your pantry. I certainly am. No offense to the pork, beef, and tofu in my freezer, nor to the chaotic assortment of loose produce in my fridge, but I am tired of cooking and eating just about everything. Desperate to mix things up, I ordered Omsom, a new "chef-driven Asian pantry staple brand" that delivers meal starter kits with shelf-stable sauces, from which you can easily make dishes that normally require a large number of specialty ingredients, like larb and sisig, while using whatever proteins and produce you have on hand.
The company was launched by sisters Kim and Vanessa Pham, who wanted to "give Asian-Americans access to a real deal taste of home and to show non-Asian Americans what it means for this category to be done right," Kim told Food & Wine. The starter sauces are developed by some of New York City's best chefs, including Nicole Ponseca (Jeepney), Jimmy Ly (Madame Vo), and Chat + Ohm Suansilphong (Fish Cheeks).
"As first-generation Vietnamese-Americans, food is not just a love language; it’s a way for us to re-engage with our identities as WOC and 'third culture,'" Kim said. "Growing up, we never felt represented by the 'ethnic' aisle in mainstream grocery stores—frankly, why do they even still exist!—so we felt inspired to build a brand that reclaims the complexity, integrity, and nuances of Asian cuisines and communities."
Once I received my starter pack, which included sauces for sisig, larb, and lemongrass BBQ, I assumed I would have to go to the grocery store to get more ingredients, but this was not the case; I was able to prepare the larb without leaving my house—an absolute miracle. I didn't have the ground chicken suggested in the instructions, so I swapped in tofu that I needed to get rid of because I was so sick of looking at it in my fridge.
All of the flavor-heavy parts of the recipe are handled by the starter mixture, which includes Red Boat fish sauce, lime juice, cane sugar, and Thai dried chili flakes, as well as a separate pack of toasted rice powder. I garnished my tofu larb with scallions I had on hand. I didn't have mint, but I did have basil, which worked perfectly. I steamed some frozen green beans to serve alongside the fragrant, spicy tofu salad. Et voilà, a twist on one of my favorite Thai dishes made in less than 15 minutes, with an ingredient (tofu) I thought I was sick of.
Each starter sauce serves two to three people when cooked with the suggested produce and proteins, like shrimp, chicken, pork belly, and tofu, but you can always improvise ingredients. Omsom is currently selling Starter Packs (three pouches of one cuisine) and Sampler Trios (two pouches of each cuisine—Thai, Filipino, and Vietnamese) on their website.
"As a founder launching a business in the midst of a global pandemic, the days are long and brutal," said Kim. "But it’s all worth it when people share how our products help them re-engage with their identities and how cooking these dishes help them feel a sense of home."