Work pho: The journey and the destination

I love to cook, but since I love to do about a dozen different things, I don’t always have time to prepare a meal at home. And if I don’t cook at home, I am without leftovers for lunch. It’s long been a mission of mine to find a way to have my most favorite meals at work.
Also, I am picky. Some foods just don’t microwave well, like delicious sautéed greens, so I don’t take them for lunch. I don’t like microwaveable meals on principle, unless it’s Indian food. I love all kinds of Asian food: Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, you name it. So for the past few months, I’ve been questing after something that I could easily make at work that would be satisfying enough to keep me from ordering out.
My journey began with with instant Ramen and frozen vegetables. This isn’t a bad meal in a pinch. Here’s my favorite way to prepare it:
  1. Cook the noodles and a handful of frozen veggies in a bowl of water in the microwave.
  2. Drain most but not all of the water and toss the noodles and veggies with the packet of Ramen seasoning.

Obviously, this is incredibly cheap and easy, and if you have a freezer at work, you’re all set. You can even add some protein like hotdogs or tempeh. I also keep soy sauce and Sriracha so I can make a salty, spicy mess of anything.
Thanks rovingl!

As you can imagine, though, grown-ups with full-time jobs get sick of eating instant noodles more than a few times a week. And I also found out that other grown-ups who also love cooking will make fun of you for eating instant noodles doused in salt.

I looked into making different styles of noodle soups and learned that the magical components were merely broth, noodles and whatever else I wanted to put in it. I wasn’t sure if cooking the noodles in a microwave was feasible, but then I realized I could use rice noodles or mung bean vermicelli. These kinds of thin noodles shouldn’t actually be boiled in water the way spaghetti noodles are prepared. They only need to be soaked in very hot water for a few minutes. I experimented and found out I could cook them in the microwave for two or three minutes and get edible results.

After a recent trip to the Asian grocery store, I had everything I needed to make a passable pho at work. And in a stroke of good luck, I forgot to bring the broth that I had left over from making white cut-chicken (白斬雞) the night before. I was going to replace it at lunchtime with some chicken broth from the co-op, but I ended up getting a quart of pho soup base. On sale. How perfect!

Now I present to you:

Office Pho

  • 2-3 cups of pho soup base or any kind of broth (water will do if you keep soy sauce or other condiments handy)
  • a handful of mung bean vermicelli or rice noodles (the thinner the noodles, the faster they cook)
  • fresh Thai basil, scallions, mung bean sprouts, cilantro, lime, hot peppers or anything else you like
  • a few slices of the protein of your choice, if you like
  1. Pour the soup base, broth, or water into a microwave-safe bowl. Partially submerge the noodles without breaking them. 
  2. Cook the broth and noodles on high for about a minute. Stop and stir them to get more of the noodles submerged into the broth.
  3. Add your protein if you have any and cook the soup for another minute. Stop and check the noodles. If they are still too firm to eat, put them back in for a third minute.
  4. Carefully take out your soup and top with Thai basil leaves, cilantro, scallions, mung bean sprouts, hot peppers, and a lime wedge. I also douse mine with some bonito-flavored soy sauce (much more office-friendly than fish sauce) and Sriracha. 
Work pho: make some for your friends!


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