A Conversation With Nona Lim About Ingredient Sourcing, Culture, and Her Favorite Noodle Hacks

Last Update: May 20, 2024

In just about any conversation between Thrive Market employees about their favorite brands on the site, Nona Lim is sure to pop up more than a few times. The beloved brand makes fresh Asian noodles, broths, soups, stir-fry kits, and instant noodle bowls in small batches, somehow achieving a unique — and often difficult — balance of healthy, authentic ingredients and meals that can be prepared quickly.

That balance (and the brand’s name) come from founder Nona, who grew up in colorful and food-centric Singapore. Today, she credits her time spent on the tiny island and its “melting pot of cultures” for providing much of her inspiration in creating the Nona Lim brand. 

In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, we caught up with Nona as she traveled through China on a sourcing trip. She shared the inspiration behind many of our employees’ (and members’!) most beloved dishes, expert hacks for preparing noodles at home, and a bit about what being an AAPI brand founder means to her. 

Q&A With Nona Lim Founder, Nona

Can you give us the backstory on how you founded your brand? 

I was raised in Singapore, a melting pot of Asian cultures, full of hawker centers [open-air food markets commonly found throughout Singapore], and I saw food as a universal way to connect cultures. Years later, living in Oakland, CA and nostalgic for the food of my youth, I began to craft clean versions of my favorite dishes that didn’t include MSG, artificial ingredients, preservatives, or tons of sodium. As an adult fencer competing on the World Cup circuit and very attuned to my health, I realized that “clean” Asian products didn’t really exist back then, and certainly nothing that was also accessible to a mainstream consumer and convenient. 

After missing the London Olympics by a point, I quit competitive fencing, and launched Nona Lim in 2014. Nona Lim is all about bringing these incredible flavors to life in a way that is convenient and accessible to everyone. We offer fresh Asian ingredients that allow consumers to recreate street food classics with the freedom to improvise and add their own twist. At the same time, we are incorporating the West Coast attention to clean ingredients.

Were you always interested in food and cooking? 

Like most Singaporeans, I am incredibly passionate about food.  This goes back to my earliest memories as a child, walking hand-in-hand with my dad to the hawker center next to our home — incidentally, the one featured in Crazy Rich Asians — and then watching hawkers stretch and spin the roti prata, or cooking up a plate of char kway teow in an enormous black wok with blasting heat and fire to create the “wok hei”. The skills and dexterity of the hawkers is like a dance, and absolutely mesmerizing. 

I don’t have as much time to cook, but I definitely still love cooking, and these days, I try to get my daughter to cook with me too.

What do you think sets Nona Lim apart from other noodle brands? 

I see my recipes as a bridge between cultures and a way to share Southeast Asian and Asian culture and heritage with American consumers, so flavor is a big differentiator. Food is a connection and a way to build relationships that transcends geography, demographics, race, and age. 

Beyond that, at Nona Lim we are committed to using fresh, clean ingredients, with no preservatives, artificial flavors or colors, or MSG. My mission from day one has been to create clean, fresh Asian comfort food that works for today’s busy, health- and wellness-focused shopper. Every Nona Lim product is versatile and convenient and quick prep, so you can heat and eat in minutes, or use our products to make a “fancy” or complicated meal without investing a ton of time and energy. We’re about spending time together eating delicious, nutritious food.

What are some of your favorite ways to eat your noodles? Any fun hacks or add-ins? 

I eat my rice noodles every week. I have them very simply, with a chicken broth, in a pho broth, or our coconut lime broth. It takes just 10 minutes to prepare, so that’s super quick.

Of course, our instant noodles are also super convenient because I can just add hot water. A fun hack is to add a tablespoon of peanut butter to the Sichuan Spicy Mala Noodles. It could be fun to also use the instant noodles with less water and make it more saucy. Add a little less water and after the noodles and veggies have rehydrated, you can put them in a little pan and cook them for a little longer so it becomes more of a stir-fry.

How do you approach sourcing ingredients for your products? 

We put as much thought into what we put into our products as what doesn’t go in there. We are looking for ingredients that are clean-label and also provide the depth and authenticity of flavor that Nona Lim stands for. 

We look for more than the quality of ingredients; we also look for partners that we can trust and collaborate with. In Asia, we have a team on the ground and I make regular trips as well so that I can have a deep understanding of our ingredients and our partners.  

As an AAPI brand founder, what does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you? 

The focus on AAPI heritage is a great opportunity to share and connect cultures. When I launched Nona Lim in 2014, we were the only fresh, clean-ingredient Asian food in CPG. Today, Asian food is huge — and still growing. There’s no more impactful way to bridge cultures.

Try These Nona Lim Products From Thrive Market 

Nona Lim Yunnan Mushroom Instant Noodle Cup
The vegan, umami-rich broth in this easy-to-prepare lunch adds an earthy depth of flavor to silky flat noodles, while real porcini and shiitake mushrooms offer a nutritious take on the classic instant noodle cup. 

Nona Lim Pad Thai Rice Noodles
These chewy, gluten-free rice noodles create a hearty base for a homemade Pad Thai recipe or when used in your favorite Nona Lim broth. 

Nona Lim Sichuan Spicy Mala Instant Noodle Cup

Not for the faint of heart, this super spicy noodle cup contains fresh tofu and shiitake mushrooms and comes together in just 5 minutes. 

Nona Lim Fujian Shrimp Instant Noodle Cup

This noodle cup makes a quick and easy lunch of shrimp, tofu, and cabbage in a seafood broth with silky, flat noodles. 

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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