For immigrants to the United States, representation can be complex, celebrated, and often feel like a mix of the two. That is exactly why the sister duo Vanessa and Kim Pham Omsom came into being, a seed-based food startup that sells packaged “starters” to create authentic Asian dishes at home. The appetizer contains sauce, spices, and flavors, and the co-founders say consumers can prepare a dish in 30 minutes or less.
“When we saw Asian Americans asserting their voices in the media and in culture in general, we faced them walking through this ethnic grocery store walk and saw how Asian flavors were represented,” said Vanessa.
The existence of the ethnic gang itself has raised criticism of “other”
“The ethnic walk feels super dated,” said Vanessa. “The flavors were diluted, the branding and design were stereotypical. How can you cook a kitchen in a sad glass of sauce? “
The course, also known as the international course, currently contains bottles with non-expiring Thai pastes. If you go a little further, you will find microwaveable containers with high-fat butter chicken. And there is a bottle in the corner that simply brings one of the most diverse kitchens in the world to the boil: “curry sauce”.
While advances in grocery representation are pitiful, founders are optimistic that they can change this. Omsom, from the flavors to the meaning behind its name (it means rowdy in Vietnamese) is another story waiting to be told about the immigration culture. It belongs to them.
Omsom started today with an undisclosed amount of pre-seed money. The early stage startup group consists of 50% colored women, including Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, and Brita Rosenheim, partner at Better Food Ventures. Investments were also made by Peter Livingston, founder and partner of Unpopular Ventures, a fund for entrepreneurs targeting unconventional niches.
Livingston said he invested in Omsom, although he was not actually a “food tech investor” because it covered an unconventional category.
“Venture capital as an industry is so homogeneous, grouped in a handful of regions, prefers to invest near where they live, and typically invests in a small number of the same issues,” said Livingston. “In the past, ethnic food wasn’t really a” VC category “that smells of opportunity to me.”
Saujani said their investment was “to rely on the team and a product designed for a heavily underserved market, and current circumstances make consumers’ appetite for pantry staples even greater,” referring to COVID- 19, which forces more people to cook from home because restaurants are closed.
Your mother’s judgment
The preparation of authentic dishes with “mom’s ingredients” is not an easy goal, so the Pham sisters concentrated heavily on procuring and working with the chef and spent over a year researching and developing the recipes.
The sisters teamed up with three chefs – Jimmy Ly from Madame Vo, Nicole Ponseca from Jeepney and Chat, and Ohm Suansilphong from Fish Cheeks – to create the first line of products. Depending on the volume, the chefs receive a graduated license fee for the sale.
“We made sure that our ingredients, 90% of them, only apply to Asian foods and come directly from Asia,” said Vanessa. “We leaned back to get the right kind of chilli.”
In addition to authenticity, the Pham sisters had to overcome another misunderstanding: the oily and processed reputation of Americanized international dishes, such as your favorite orange chicken to go or a creamy bowl of buttered chicken.
These flagship dishes, so often associated with these cultures, are often much healthier than what an immigrant family could serve in Indian culture every day. Omsom offers dishes that have no preservatives, no corn syrup with a high fructose content and are stable for up to one year. It’s “acceptable to users who try to be generally health conscious, in line with something you would find at Whole Foods.”
Now the Pham sisters only have to see if they can keep their promise to offer uncompromising dishes in the midst of a pandemic. They think it will be a welcome change for people who are stuck at home and want to experiment with cooking.
“We grew up south of Boston in a mostly white suburb and there was a bit of shame in our food,” said Kim Pham . “But when I put myself in the position of a colored woman, I started to use Essen as the first stop for dealing with my identity.”
“I moved away from home, I don’t speak Vietnamese like I used to, but I turned to the food,” she continued. “Even if it was a bowl of pho.”