Packaged food—it’s become a negative phrase, suggesting a product filled with preservatives, additives, and other bad-for-you things. But Nona Lim is on a mission to change our perception.
She founded her namesake food company,Nona Lim, in 2014 with the goal of creating a line of premade Asian items that taste really good—and are good for us, too.
“I think traditionally a lot of Asian packaged products are not necessarily healthy,” Lim says via video from her home in the Bay Area. “It might be full of MSG and preservatives and all kinds of colourings, and what I’ve tried to do is take a lot of those bigger movements around functional medicine and food as medicine and really apply that to packaged goods.”
Lim grew up in Singapore, before moving to London to work in management consulting and then following her husband to San Francisco—where she fenced competitively and missed qualifying for the 2012 Olympics by a gut-wrenching singular point. She dabbled in food commerce with a meal prep delivery company (which was clearly ahead of its time), and after the Olympics heartbreak, decided to pivot into packaged goods. Singapore’s melting pot of cultures, hawker markets, and global reputation as a foodie destination informs her lineup of products, which includes bone broths, dried noodles (the rice noodles sourced from a family-run factory in Singapore, a further nod to her home), and full meals. What makes her company—which is currently only available in the United States—even more unique, though, is that she combines her Asian heritage with her adopted home in Northern California: its focus on freshness, on ingredient quality, on wellness. The intersection of those things is at the core of the Nona Lim brand.
“If you look at the ingredient list of our products, everything is pronounceable. It’s all things you can find in your own pantry,” Lim says. “I spend a lot of time thinking about what doesn’t go into it as much as what goes into it.” That means taste comes from the food itself—simple, whole ingredients, expertly prepared. “We try to create flavour from the complexity of spices and herbs that we use,” she continues. “So in our Carrot Ginger Soup, we use organic fresh thyme. It’s very time-consuming because you have to get all the thyme leaves off. But it gives a ton of flavour. Or working with fresh lemongrass for our Green Curry.”
With the pandemic keeping many Americans inside their homes, cooking when they might otherwise go out to eat, Nona Lim products can fulfill a craving for authentic Asian food. Packaged dishes have always been about convenience—let’s be honest, everyone is too busy or too drained to cook sometimes—but that has so often forfeited flavour or health. Lim proves that we can have it all.