Food

These Savory Seasoning Packets Save Me From Quarantine Cooking Fatigue

Omsom's Filipino, Thai, and Vietnamese meal starters give me the taste of home with little to no effort.
07 July 2020, 4:00am
a wooden table topped with a package of omsom meal starter flavor packets
Photo by Jenny Huang courtesy Omsom

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Though I refuse to count the exact number of days, I'm nearing four full months of quarantine. Which means four full months of cooking almost every single meal. I don't want to know the math on that either, but given that sometimes meals happen more than three times a day these days, that's a lot of cooking. So yes, I'm just as tired of it as you can imagine. (And don't even get me started on the dishes.)

When it comes to "comfort food," the flavors that take me back to home are umami-rich blends of soy sauce and garlic, set off by lime or vinegar, and often, the pungent rush of fish sauce, too. In my household, which is Filipino, anything could be made better with these elements, and though the improvised dishes I grew up on in Pennsylvania were rarely tied to any one culture in particular, they drew on a Southeast Asian-inspired flavor profile of savory, sour, salty, and sweet.

Though I can concoct these ingredients into dishes myself, I, again, am getting tired of really cooking these days, and when my brain is almost literally fried from working all day in an un-air-conditioned apartment, the last thing I want to do is think through a meal, too. On the days that all I can muster is tossing things into exactly one pan, I find myself reaching for—and increasingly thankful about—Omsom's flavor-packed meal starters.

Created by two first-generation Vietnamese American sisters as a way of returning to their roots and developed in collaboration with chefs, Omsom's meal starters come in three flavors—a Vietnamese lemongrass BBQ, a Thai larb, and a Filipino sisig—and are sold in sampler trios with two packets of each. They turn anything from bland and boring to rich and complex, leaning on the aforementioned ingredients that I love so much. They provide the flavors I crave the most, and better yet, there's minimal effort on my part.

Tofu larb with rice, cucumber, and herbs, and tofu sisig tacos, both made by the author using Omsom meal starters.

Into a single skillet, I can toss my protein of choice (fake meat crumbles or tofu, though you could use meat), followed by whichever packet suits my fancy: the sisig is tart and slightly spicy; the lemongrass BBQ has a sweetness that makes you crave another bite the instant you've put some in your mouth; the larb packs heat and has a welcome nuttiness from toasted rice powder. If I have rice, I'll eat it on the side, though tortillas or lettuce wraps make a welcome device for getting the flavor-packed bites to my mouth, too. If I want to take the bare minimum of extra steps, I might throw on a fistful of torn herbs (mint and cilantro pair particularly well), or quickly cut some cucumber to offset the heat; you don't have to though.

The result, in any case, is a meal that tastes like something my mom might have cooked, but I can pull it together just as easily as I might have made a box of mac and cheese. After a long day in these times of distance and distress, it's these flavors that make me feel comforted and soothed. As I write this, I've got one packet left, having just used my last sisig starter to make tofu sisig tacos. Though I received my trio as a sample for Omsom's recent launch, I fully intend to stock up again as soon as I run out. My future self deserves that as a treat.

The Omsom sampler trio is available for pre-order on omsom.com.