A new Southeast Asian-inspired food company is teaming up with the chefs at hit restaurants Fish Cheeks, Jeepney, and Madame Vo on sauces for make-at-home meals. The new company, called Omsom, sells “starters,” what co-founders and sister Vanessa and Kim Pham describe as a pantry shortcut to making classic Southeast Asian dishes.
Not to be confused with the sourdough bread-making staple, Omsom’s starters are pre-packaged blends of spices and sauces. When mixed with meats and vegetables, they form the base of classic Southeast Asian dishes like sisig, a Filipino meal made from minced pork head, or larb, the popular Thai meat-based salad.
The starters, which go on sale today, nod to their country of origin and feature detailed recipe instructions and notes on how the dish is traditionally prepared — with each recipe created by the chefs and owners of popular Southeast Asian restaurants in New York City. Nicole Ponseca of Jeepney developed Omsom’s sisig starter; brothers Chat and Ohm Suansilphong of Fish Cheeks created its recipe for larb; and Jimmy Ly of Madame Vo is responsible for the the company’s take on lemongrass barbecue.
These dishes were chosen in part because they’re versatile. Omsom’s recipe for lemongrass barbecue calls for one pound of pork shoulder, but “can pretty much be made with whatever meat someone has,” says Ly, owner of Madame Vo and Madame Vo BBQ. While Omsom’s larb starter calls for ground chicken, Chat Ohm says that a delicious version of the dish can also be made using minced pork, freshwater fish, or liver.
Adaptability is just one reason the chefs selected these dishes, though. While all incredibly popular in their countries of origin — “You can’t step outside in Thailand without smelling larb,” Ohm says — sisig, larb, and lemongrass barbecue have yet to gain mainstream popularity in the United States.
For some first-generation Asian Americans, that means the only way to enjoy these dishes is to make them in their own kitchens, Vanessa Pham says. “We know how much time it can take to run around town and get all of the ingredients needed to make these dishes, especially if there’s not an Asian market in your neighborhood,” she says.
Working with known-chefs to create the recipes felt like a requirement to encourage people with less familiarity to learn more about the cuisines, Vanessa Pham says — and a way to help upend the grocery store aisle usually called “ethnic foods,” where she rarely saw people who looked like her when she was growing up.
And though the project that had been in the works long before novel coronavirus, the importance has underscored by the pandemic as restaurants lose business and more people cook at home; chefs are paid a commission for each starter sold.
“By telling the stories of our chefs and of these dishes,” Vanessa Pham says, “we hope to be one of the many voices transforming that aisle and the grocery store in general.”
Omsom’s sisig, larb, and lemongrass barbecue starters are available separately in packs of three ($12), or in a sampler package that includes two of each starter ($36). Orders can be placed through the company’s online store starting Wednesday, May 13, with a commission from each sale going to the chef who created its recipe.