This “Out and Proud” Food Founder Is Determined to Have Her Bold Sauces and Noodles Become Staples in Your Pantry
It’s no secret how much we at The Kitchn love Omsom. We’ve been absolutely fawning over the brand’s collection of pan-Asian seasoning sauces and noodles, which sisters Kim and Vanessa Pham concocted to bring the flavors of some of the most popular Filipinx, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese dishes to home kitchens — eliminating the need to scour multiple grocery stores for specific ingredients.
As an esteemed queer-owned food brand, Omsom makes “proud and loud” pan-Asian flavors accessible at home. I chatted with co-owner Kim Pham about how her queerness has informed much of her life, and how starting Omsom has helped her grow more confident as a proud queer- and first-generation-owned business.
How did you start Omsom?
Omsom stems from our [Kim and Vanessa’s] identities as first-generation Vietnamese Americans: When we were growing up, we battled feelings of shame and being “othered” in our hometown south of Boston, which felt especially clear in the “ethnic” aisle — a hodgepodge of ingredients and products across various communities of color. We never felt seen or heard by these products, and it reflects an antiquated view of who Americans are and how we eat. After the 2016 election, we both felt personal moral emergencies to try and create the world that we want to see, where a proud and loud, WOC-led brand can reclaim and celebrate the multitudes in Asian flavors and stories. Thus, Omsom was born.
How does your queer identity play into Omsom’s mantra of being proud and loud?
Starting my business three years ago low-key forced me to come out — in the best way possible. It was a deeply transformative period of my life; I was doing a lot of reflecting on what it means to be “proud and loud.” (Fun fact: Omsom is rooted in the Vietnamese phrase for “rowdy”!)
It started with the reclamation and celebration of Asian flavors. But then I took that lens personally into every aspect of my life: In what ways have I hidden or silenced parts of me that were begging to be let into the light? This led to a much-needed examination of self, which included coming to terms with owning my bisexuality. I had so much internalized biphobia and fear (rooted in a lot of societal norms around living in a binary), but starting Omsom and sharing my heritage helped create space for my own queer truth.
How have you been able to see yourself in your work with Omsom in ways you might not have in past work?
Starting my own business 1000% has helped me lead a more integrated life. For the first time ever, I have the immense privilege of being my authentic self, all the time. Society encourages us to section off and compartmentalize parts of ourselves for different contexts — work, family, friends, relationships, etc. It is truly an honor to move towards tying those pieces all together by owning and sharing my truth out loud.
Yes, I am an Omsom cofounder. Yes, I am a BDSM educator. Yes, I am a sister and a daughter. Yes, I am a bisexual Southeast Asian woman. All of these parts exist within me, and Omsom has created space for me to play within them.
What’s your favorite part about owning an out and proud food brand?
I’m becoming the person I so desperately needed when I was growing up. I spent much of my younger life hating so many parts of myself and I think often about how young, lost, little Kim would’ve loved to meet the proud and loud, Vietnamese, openly queer, and in-your-face business owner Kim!
Do you believe that LGBTQ+ food brands have a certain responsibility within the industry?
Responsibility is a tricky word. When I think of liberation for my peers, I dream of a world where we can be accepted fully for who we are, but also there isn’t a pressure to “perform” our queerness. I firmly believe that there isn’t one “right” way to be queer — for some folks, that may look proud and loud; for others, it’s a part of their identity that doesn’t need to be trotted out in every conversation. I dream of a world where queerness just is.
Anything else you’d like to share with Omsom’s fanbase — especially in today’s political climate?
We at Omsom see far because we stand on the shoulders of giants. We owe much of our acceptance to the hard-fought, hard-earned work of silent generations before us. We can honor them through our abundance and joy, which often feels like such a radical act. The world is a brighter, more beautiful place when you make room for yourself — whatever that means for you!
So what’s next?
We want to become a household name and a part of the new American pantry. Asian America so deeply deserves a brand that reclaims and celebrates the sheer multitudes that exist in our flavors and stories. I believe that Omsom can be that next-gen brand — to make Asian Americans proud, and also to show non-Asians what it looks like to do this market with cultural integrity.