What to CookBack to SchoolLunchNot Sad Desk Lunch

How to Make Your Own Cup O' Noodles for Lunch

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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.


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

Tags: pho, not sad desk lunch, lunch, tea pot