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Interview with So Saap founder, Khiet Vandy

What does So Saap mean?

So Saap means so delicious, so yummy. It’s English and Lao. Like me. I’m Lao, but I’m American too. My circles are pretty broad - I don’t just hang with one ethnicity. I've always been growing up diverse with Vietnamese friends, Thai friends, American friends, Cambodian friends, all, everything. That’s probably why the sauce is what it is.

How do you use So Saap sauce?

I like making papaya salad with it the best, and I like it in Larb. I also like making Jaew (Laoisan dipping sauce) with it. In the first year I was making a lot of Vietnamese dishes with it. 
One customer asked: “Can I use it for Nam Khao?” So I started doing cooking videos with Dr. Lao exploring different ways of using it. We did Nam Khao and it came out fabulous. 
I’ve been working in Thai kitchens since I was 16. My brother and mom cook Thai. This thing does a lot of Thai dishes, too. You can add it in your curry. You can make Thai Yum salad by just adding chili, chili oil, chili paste.
I eat it everyday. When I don’t have the sauce I can barely cook anymore. 90% of my cooking I do with it now - from marinating steak to adding it to spaghetti sauce. It kicks it up a notch.
When I talk to customers sometimes they say: “I just dip stuff in it. Steak, chicken, vegetables. I don’t do anything else.” I’m like “what?” But I’m just happy they enjoy it.

How did So Saap get started?

The whole country of Laos and northeastern Thailand - we all make papaya salad. Everyone has their way of making it. I love papaya salad, and I wanted to make it simple for everyone to enjoy it too. I first started working on the sauce in 2012. I wanted it to be more versatile than just papaya salad - I spent years tweaking it, testing it out, sending it to family and friends and getting responses. Credit to the first papaya sauce brands out there, too. They paved the way. I didn’t even know about them at first when I started doing my own thing. Awareness and appreciation for Lao food in the U.S. has grown a lot since I first started.
Right before the Super Bowl in 2018, I launched 40 bottles and it sold out in a week. Every store we expand to now, we sell out. Today we’re in over 84 stores across the country and continuing to grow.

What’s next for So Saap?

Bringing together all the Southeast Asian cultures. And the world. It’s a product for everybody, from papaya salad to spaghetti - we want to be more inclusive to everybody. I’m not shying away from my culture, but the food that I’m bringing to the forefront is more modern, more of a mix. Of course I’m Lao and at the end of the day it has an authentic Lao-Thai origin because you’ll always come back to papaya salad being Lao. That said, we’ve added Cambodian team members and are learning new ways of using it. They use the same base in their cooking. I’m learning. Trying to experiment. Trying to make it more versatile for everybody. I want it to be the best all-around seasoning from Southeast Asia. 
We’re working on other sauces, too, and a bunch of other products we’re going to launch. I was working on my habanero sauce a few weeks ago, and I posted on social media just privately, and everybody wants it. Now I had to tell them I’m not talking about it anymore because my friends were bugging me about it too much lol. We’re experimenting to see what it does. It has a root of Lao Isan taste, more that Jaew Som line, but more modern, more new, more habanero. All natural too. No artificial flavoring, no artificial coloring, natural fish sauce, all natural stuff. That’s where we want to go. Stay tuned.

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