Back to School

How to Make Your Own Cup O' Noodles for Lunch

As a defiant response to sad desk lunches, the Food52 team works to keep our midday meals both interesting and pretty. Each week, we'll be sharing our happiest desk lunches—and we want to see yours, too.

Today: Sophie Missing and Caroline Craig, authors of The Little Book of Lunch, make a posh version of Cup O' Noodles for a unique desk lunch. Just add water.

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After years of spending unthinkable sums on dry, under-seasoned sandwiches, watery soups, and disappointing salads made of sad, wilting leaves and little else, we decided enough was enough. It was time, we thought, to reclaim our midday break from its monotonous, financially ruinous routine and call it quits on using the phrase, "What do you mean you've sold out of artisinal cheese baguettes?" It was time to transform our lunches into something more than just an afterthought. And while we're firm fans of the lunchtime staple, the sandwich—be it a banh mi or open-faced number—there are some days when we want something that requires utensils but is work-kitchen friendly. This, however, can be a lot to ask for.

Work kitchens are not usually the stuff of cooking dreams. They are often barren spaces without so much as an unsoiled teaspoon with which to remove a tea bag from your mug, let alone luxe items like microwaves (or plates). Thankfully, given the addictive nature of caffeinated hot drinks, they do usually contain a kettle. If they don’t, then turn to your local coffee shop—most will give you a cup of hot water for a miserly fee, if not for free. This is where our just-add-water, desk-side pho comes in handy.

Think of our Southeast Asian Pho as a posh, customizeable Cup O'Noodles that takes advantage of seasonal vegetables and refrigerator leftovers. While we've provided our own recipe, here are some general guidelines to keep in mind if you prefer to branch out on your own:

  • Slice or peel vegetables as finely as possible—remember that you’re not simmering anything on the stove, and thinner vegetables will lose that raw crunch more quickly. A mandoline is a good and inexpensive tool to invest in: Just watch your fingers.
  • Choose any crisp vegetables: Courgette or carrot ribbons, thinly sliced red or yellow pepper, spring onions, leeks or mushrooms, baby sweet corn, baby spinach, sugar snap peas, and bean sprouts all work well.
  • Flavor your broth with things like sliced fresh chiles, lime wedges, lemongrass stalks, grated ginger, stock cubes, coriander, Thai basil, and mint.
  • Make sure you use a heat-safe container. A vintage glass jar may look pleasingly rustic, but it would be a minor lunch-based disaster if the addition of boiling water caused it to crack (we don’t even want to think about the health and safety implications). You don’t need to scald yourself in pursuit of a tasty lunch, we promise.

Southeast Asian Pho

Serves 1

1 teaspoon fresh ginger
1/2 red chile pepper, or to taste
3 scallions
1/2 yellow pepper
2 handfuls spinach
2 ounces vermicelli rice noodles
1/2 chicken or vegetable stock cube (or generous pinch of salt)
1 lime
1 handful fresh cilantro and basil

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Erock
  • Adam Wright
    Adam Wright
  • Bliss Lancaster
    Bliss Lancaster
  • Norma McAlister Watson
    Norma McAlister Watson
  • Lu Sabal
    Lu Sabal
@sophiemissing @carolinecraig


Erock June 4, 2017
I love it how people make it look easy and pretty and call it what they want. Itd not pho with out the broth, and you dont have broth unless you have beef stock simmering in star anise, cinnamon, charred ginger and onion at the very least. The recipe shown would actually taste very bland. Dont call it what it isnt
Adam W. August 8, 2016
kenji developed and wrote extensively about this on seriouseats almost 2 years ago.....
Bliss L. April 16, 2016
This is totally not pho. Disgrace.
Norma M. April 13, 2016
How far ahead can you make these?
Dawn M. May 22, 2016
I was wondering the same thing. Has anyone answered? I'd love to know and be able to prep a few ahead.
Lu S. April 13, 2016
Thinking about it you could have a small amount of sliced chicken in a zip lock and put it in the jar just before you decide to add the water for your fresh soup. I can hardly wait to try it.
Jennifer S. April 12, 2016
I wonder if the bean thread noodles would soften as much as rice noodles in this recipe? Has anyone tried them?
Ross B. April 14, 2016
They should soften the same or better. Test your soak time with the noodles you plan to use. But I use red bean noodles and they work excellently. I find them much more delicious than regular rice noodles.
Hoang H. April 12, 2016
This is not Vietnamese pho. It's vegetable soup w/ rice noodles. Maybe it's pho 'Merican-style.
Jun-Danielle H. April 12, 2016
Could probably make it a true Vietnamese pho if the broth was made prior and placed in a durable thermos. My question would be, what about the meat?!
aunty P. August 1, 2015
They are CANNING jars.
Annakathryn P. August 1, 2015
Are the Weck jars okay to use with hot water?
Jennifer D. July 30, 2015
Love this idea! Made a Thai style soup for lunch today--so easy!
Vera D. June 28, 2015
Yep, it's a Weck jar!
aunty P. June 21, 2015
I've been doing something like this for years, using packaged udon noodles. Dump the package, slivered pea pods, asparagus, red pepper, mushrooms, cilantro, basil, about 3 nice sized shrimp, into a quart container. Come lunch, just add water. Cheap, healthy, delish. Your Weck is much prettier than my quart sized plastic take-out container, though.
Shelly V. June 16, 2015
I'm with Tara - what jar is that?
Tara B. June 16, 2015
That is the loveliest container, where is it from?
Lindsay-Jean H. June 17, 2015
I believe it's the 19.6 ounce size Weck Tulip Jar:
Andrea June 28, 2015
Just about to ask the same thing! Love that jar.