This Asian Sauce Trio Is My New Shortcut to Quick and Zingy Meals

Lauren Joseph

When my starter kit from start-up food company Omsom arrived last week, I was immediately taken in by the fun packaging. The slim cardstock box, which is about the size and shape of a traveling backgammon set, yells Thai! Vietnamese! Filipino! from little highlighter yellow speech bubbles, while a wavy graphic above the Omsom name brings to mind delicious, fragrant steam if you look at it long enough. Not that I did at the time–I was too ready to rip it open. Inside, six tidy little sauce packets, a few packs of toasted rice powder, and three handy menu cards greeted me.

I browsed packets and menus for Vietnamese BBQ and sisig before choosing the larb sauce. I opted to ignore the provided chicken larb recipe (which, for reference, is quite tasty–I've since made it twice) and stir the larb sauce into a pan of sizzling oyster mushrooms and thinly sliced ginger that I already had going when the mail arrived. Next, I spooned the glossy, fragrant mushrooms over steamed rice and sprinkled the whole thing with a generous handful of chopped cilantro and Thai basil, plus the toasted rice powder that was included in the kit.

A quick, contented post-dinner poll of my family proved my suspicions right: It was good. Okay, maybe not quite as good as when I've toasted and pounded dry sticky rice in a mortar and pestle myself, or scooped and measured and whirred my fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili together into a homemade larb—but it was close. It was definitely far closer to the larb I've eaten in Thailand than anything I've experienced from any other store-bought sauce. For anyone who doesn't have the hours in the kitchen they'd like to create complex and layered sauces every night (or anyone who's just tired of spending so many hours in the kitchen), this sauce is a powerful, delicious shortcut.

"We saw this wide gap between what consumers wanted to cook at home thanks to what they've learned about authentic Asian flavors from Asian restaurants and Asian food personalities in media, and what was actually available in grocery aisles," says Omsom co-founder Kim Pham. Kim, who previously worked in venture capital, founded Omsom with her sister, Vanessa—a former Bain consultant who cut her teeth in business by managing a cool three million dollar e-commerce business while at Harvard. The two left their jobs to start Omsom, a partnership they joke was "in the works since the '90s."

Considering their backgrounds, it's not surprising that these two nailed the millennial branding, or that they cleverly chose to partner with the chefs of three popular NYC restaurants to advise on the sauce recipes and build buzz. The larb I devoured was partially thanks to sibling duo Chat and Ohm Suansilphong of Fishcheeks, while the remaining sauce packets are the products of collaboration with Nicole Ponseca of Jeepney (a Filipino sisig starter) and Jimmy Ly of Madame Vo (a grassy yet rich Vietnamese BBQ). It's also not surprising that their much-hyped Starter Kit launch sold out in three days (don't worry; you can pre-order it or buy a three pack of a single sauce right now).

Omsom is, in their website's words, a 'loud and proud' Asian brand. As a second gen. Asian immigrant, I can get behind that. I'll admit it, though: I can't help but feel a little sad that such elaborate, excessive packaging and carefully calculated branding is necessary to get people excited about these flavorful sauces. Because considering the professional acumen of Vanessa and Kim Pham, I think it's safe to say that this is what the market research revealed: bright catchy packaging, swag like stickers, matches, and a utensil in every box, low commitment starter sizes—all of these flashy elements were somehow key to marketing a food that's plenty delicious without all that.

I would eat or drink or bathe in Omsom's tart calamansi-laced Filipino Sisig sauce happily. I had no doubt the Vietnamese BBQ would be any less fantastic; In fact, I had so much faith that I relinquished control over dinner for the first time in nearly two months to my partner, under the condition that he would sauce the chicken with it. And it didn't disappoint.

Unlike the watered down, de-spiced, de-fish sauced, de-pickled 'Asian' flavors we usually get in store-bought sauces, these actually have the zing and complexity of the cuisines they represent. Each one is good enough to warrant a whole big jar—or two! I'm hoping that the Pham sisters, who tell me they plan to expand to East Asian flavors next, with Japanese, Chinese, and Korean chef partners and sauces to go with, will release many-helping servings of each sauce soon.

After all, I can walk into almost any big box grocery store and find six varieties of pesto. I'm more than ready to find at least one fantastic Sisig sauce in the aisles.

Sampler Trio

$29.00, Omsom

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Larb Starter 3-Pack

$12.00, Omsom

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Originally Appeared on Epicurious