Cold Soba Noodles Recipe

Cold soba noodles with a big dollop of ginger-scallion paste for the flight to Tokyo, plus pics from Japan, and a link to a few favorite spots in Tokyo.

Cold Soba Noodles

This was the scene on my counter at 7a.m. the morning we flew from San Francisco to Tokyo. Lunchbox ready, suitcases by the door. If you've been a reader for a while, you know, I don't love long flights. After six or seven hours I tend to get bad headaches and the headaches eventually make me queasy. I've found a few things do help though - packing good meals, drinking water every single time it is offered, and no alcohol in flight. Every time I shrug off my own rules, I pay. So, for this trip to Japan I made cold soba noodles with a fat dollop of strong scallion-ginger paste, some tofu for the protein, and lots of chives. My thinking was the ginger would help if I wasn't feeling great, and the flavors were strong enough to still be prominent in-flight - tastebud dead-zone. It was completely worth the last-minute scramble. Now, based on your notes and emails, it sounds like many of you are planning travel to Tokyo/Japan - here's an updated Tokyo page, with map and links. I'll do my best to keep adding to it over time, but this should get you started. And I'll share the soba recipe at the end of the post, after a few of my favorite shots from the trip.

Cold Soba Noodles

We flew into Tokyo and out of Osaka (we've done this both times) - after a few days in Tokyo (never enough time), we stayed in Kyoto, then to Naoshima Island after a night in Nara, and back through Okayama and Osaka. Most of these shots (below) are from the ferry ride to/from Naoshima.

Cold Soba NoodlesCold Soba Noodles

(Above) The ferry passes through various islands as you make your way to Naoshima on a large (mostly-empty) ferry. It was mostly day-tripping Japanese tourists on the ship - young students and clusters of school girls.

Cold Soba NoodlesCold Soba Noodles

While we were in Japan, there was much talk (and mask-wearing) related to high pollen counts and a particularly nasty yellow dust storm making it's way from the Gobi Desert to Japan. You could see (and taste) the haze. The only upside? When the sun set each day - this.

Cold Soba NoodlesCold Soba Noodles

Wayne took the picturet of me, two shots up, one morning as we walked the string of museums that follow the perimeter road around the island. I'll try to write more about other aspects of this trip to Japan, but in the meantime, if you have a chance to visit Naoshima - it's worth making your way to Japan just to see the Water Lilies at the Chichu, explore the Tadao Ando spaces, and watch the ships pass on the sea.

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Cold Soba Noodles

You can make the paste a day or two a head of time, but I recommend making the soba and tofu the day you want to eat this. Also, for a bit of crunch I used watermelon radish here, but you can swap in whatever varietal you like - little coins of baby radish might be a nice alternative and potentially easier to come by.

4 scallions, thinly sliced
5 medium shallots, peeled and finely sliced
2 tablespoons grated, peeled ginger
scant 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
7 tablespoons good sunflower or olive oil

12 ounces extra-firm tofu

12 ounces dried soba noodles

1 radish, peeled, cut into matchsticks
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
1 bunch of chives, minced

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

While you're waiting for the water to come up to temperature, place the scallions, shallots, and ginger in a mortar and pestle. Sprinkle with the salt, and pound until everything is quite bruised, but not paste-like. Gently heat the oil in a small saucepan until it is just hot enough that you could saute something in it. Add the scallion mixture to the oil, remove from heat, and transfer to a jar or bowl to cool.

Drain the tofu, pat it dry, and cut it into matchsticks or 1/2-inch cubes. Cook the tofu, along with a pinch or two of salt, in a well-seasoned skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the pieces are browned on one side. Add a tiny splash of oil if needed to prevent sticking. Toss gently once or twice, then continue cooking for another minute or so, until the tofu is firm, golden, and bouncy.

Salt the boiling water, and cook the soba noodles per package instructions. Drain, rinse under cold water to stop the cooking, and shake off as much water as possible. Toss the noodles with a bit of the oil off the top of the scallion ginger paste at this point so the noodles don't stick down the line.

Serve the soba along with the scallion-ginger paste (you can either toss it with the noodles or serve on the side), topped with radish, pine nuts, and lots of chives.

Serves 3-4.

Prep time: 25 minutes - Cook time: 10 minutes

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I recently spent some time in Tokyo whilst on a conference and tried soba noodles for the first time. Fantastic stuff. Tried unsuccessfully to find a recipe to try making them at home then I found yours. Happy to say that using your recipe they turned out perfect! Thanks!!

James Braxton

Benesse Hotel sounds amazing. Will try to book. Where did you stay in Tokyo? 🙂


Yummy recipe! I thought I would mention that I also get horrible headaches when I travel but taking powdered magnesium does the trick! Good food helps but the magnesium is key! It has helped me immensely.


I made your wintery spring rolls a couple weeks ago, which have a similar ginger onion paste in them, to absolutely rave reviews. I’ve been hearing about them ever since. I’m hoping to turn this, or a slight variant on it which uses the cilantro from the rolls, into the lunch you pack the day after making your wintery spring rolls. Thank you for another great recipe!


Your otsu recipe was my first exposure to soba noodles and now I can’t get enough. Eager to try this recipe too!

Natasha @ terra-bites

Thank you for this recipe, I travel a lot for work and can not stand the thought of another airline/airport meal. Have you ever thought of a travel/lunch (limited utensils and cookware) recipe book?


OMG! i was there a month ago!
you should deffenitely visit Fukuoka and Kumamoto next time!


Beautiful soba lunch box to go! Great idea for food on a flight. I should try this.


Japanese food is amazing. I’ve lived here on and off years. Currently packing up to move from Sendai to the UK.
I always miss the simplicity of the cooking and how in Japan they perfect one dish.
So in one restaurant – one type of food.
Standing soba bars 😉


Interesting, 78 comments and no one’s actually made the recipe. I prepared it today. It’s a lot of prep. work. However it’s very good.


Ah… the fact that you are still posting such brilliant recipes proves why 101CookBook has and always will be my favorite food blog. Love it.


Thanks for reminding me of Richard Olney’s Garlic Soup. I made a double batch with a pound of baby kale thrown in and pureed the whole thing (except for the bay leaves and thyme). So mellow.


Random question but with all of your traveling, is it hard to eat out as a vegetarian in certain countries? (Esp. a place like Japan.)

HS: Hi Hannah – Sometimes it’s a breeze, other times it can be a challenge – I always do a good amount of research in advance, and, for example, in Japan I enjoy eating much soba, seeking out great macro-biotic type cafes and restaurants, and then there is the buddhist temple food – shojin-ryori…lots to explore.


After cooking soba, rinse under cold water and wring the soba strenuously under the water until starch is gone. This may take a few minutes. Soba is tough enough to withstand this.

bruce ingram

Sorry to pour cold water on this idea but cold noodles have the same effect on me as Brussels Sprouts. Yeuk! But I adore the photos, I live near the sea and take a lot of coastal shots. My favourite here is the person on the beach (is it you) looking out to sea. A perfect study of solitude. Thanks


I am exactly the same with flights…although I find my tolerance is a few hours less than yours. I’m totally making this for my next flight ‘home’ (transatlantic). Eating is a huge key for me too.


Heidi – this looks delicious! Can’t wait to make it for lunch. Quick question – where do you find watermelon radishes in SF? I haven’t seen them at Whole Foods. Maybe Birite?

Hi Sarah – I pick them up regularly down at the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings.


I love your photographs of composed meals such as this; going back to your quinoa big bowl & sushi bowl.
It is meals like this, where you can experiment with combinations in every bite, that light up my palate.
Thank you for another in a long string of truly lovely posts.


I was a soba junkie while I was in Tokyo for a year. My favorite places had a cook standing over a huge boiling kettle while shaving strips from a huge ball of dough with a small round blade. It was facinating to watch, and so delicious!


Heidi – Love the photos & the noodles! Off topic, but can you share the html or point us to the widget for the mini photo gallery you have of recent posts? It is such a great element and really draws the eye to other recipe posts. (We build bike wheels that would love to been shown off that way!)

HS: Hi Katie – it’s custom Moveable Type code, not a widget. You should be able to “view source” and see how it is working.


Oh this looks amazing! Love the pics and love the dish!

Whitney @ The Newlywed Chefs

This looks great! What do you mean by “well-seasoned skillet”? This could be the secret I’ve been missing in my stir-fries!

HS: Hi Natalie, For example, if you have a much used cast iron pan or wok – something that has natural “non-stick” going on. Alternately, just use a bit of oil, and it also helps to let the tofu sit in the pan, without tossing much, letting it brown and form a skin before tossing…..


I really like the idea of cold soba noodle, they really look great!

simply called food

Ok, maybe it won’t sound too smart, but can you bring your own food to the plane? I travel quite a lot and never thought of it. Maybe I assumed that just because they won’t let us bring water, it includes food as well. I definitely need to check it. I’m planning my trip to Japan as well, so thank you for all the tips, will study them. And I must say that I love flying, it’s a very relaxing time for me 🙂

Marta @ What should I eat for breakfast today

Lovely photos!! I’ve always wanted to go to Japan. I just watched a documentary about a young man who walked the length of Japan. I’ll have to try this recipe 🙂

HS: I read a book years ago that I loved – The Roads to Sata, also about a young man walking the length of Japan.

Samantha Hall

Thrilled that you were able to visit Naoshima island. It’s one of our favorites and we never tire of it. Your cold soba and toppings made me think that some natto mixed with a bit of soy or mentsuya sauce would also add good protein…provided you like natto. 🙂


I love the pictures! I hope to travel to Japan one day! And I love your cold soba noodles…tofu in anything is great!


beautiful photos, as always. i just made a soba noodle dish as well. i used 100% buckwheat noodles. they stuck and clumped together. any tips on how to prevent this..? (i added olive oil to the boiling water, seemed to help a little. when i drained them the clumping issue ensued.)


hello Heidi, inspired by your writing I started to prepare my own food for international flights. It’s soooo worth it. Love your blog. tiny

tiny jaentsch

Mmm. I love cold soba noodle salads but I’ve never added pine nuts. Perfect!
Thank you for the reference to the post from your last trip. I’m in Kyoto now, but won’t be going to Tokyo. Did you make any new discoveries this trip to Kyoto? I was at Fushimi Inari Sunday morning. Incrdible.
I’ve had some good meals, but usually there’s a little fish broth involved… I wouldn’t eat it back home but here it doesn’t seem worth it to get too fussy. If you’re willing to overlook the dashi, I went to a lovely tiny little place specializing in yuba on the weekend, across from Nishi Hongangi and had a gorgeous egg/yuba/scallion donburi with excellent eggplant and ginger pickles on the side. So good.


Wow, I would love a flight that’s 7 or 8 or even 9 hours…I live in Sydney and most of my flights are 23 hours or more!! So that might not make you feel any better on your flight but just imagine it could be worse! Your salad looks delicious… after having eaten so many horrible airline meals we always make our own food too.

trixi symonds

HI – l;ove the recipe. As A previous poster has said in Australia we are a long way from so many destinations and flights of 8 hours folllowed straight on by ones of 14 hours are our lot. As a frequent sufferer of headaches on long haul flights a tip I have found useful is to use rehydration tablets or powders on long haul flights – just mix with the water you are given and sip – brands here include Hydrolyte and Gastrolyte – the sorts of mixes you take to rehydtrate yourself after illness. I was sceptical but have tried it on 2 returns trips with effectively 24 hours of flying each way and it really helped!! I think that ginger also helps so will be trying this recipe next trip – thanks so much


Stunning images!! I get queasy on long flights too! Love your remedy with this cold soba noodles 🙂

Kiran @

Splendid! I went to Japan in early February for 10 days; we hit up Kyoto first, then Nazawa Onsen in the Nagano region for some epic skiing and “onsening,” and then Tokyo for a spot of (window) shopping. I was so impressed by the country, and rave about it to everyone. It’s most definitely a must-see for travelers. Also, interestingly enough, my favorite thing to eat there was cold soba noodles, so I had buckwheat ones for lunch everyday. So light yet satisfying. If you’re interested, I’ve made some photo galleries (links below) of my travels to Japan on my blog that you could check out- there are some great food pics, too 🙂 here,
here, and here.

Bunny C.

Hi Heidi,
You really know how to do Japan right! What made you go visit Naoshima, if you don’t mind me asking. You really get to enjoy an authentic Japanese countryside experience there! It’s not the first place people think of when they come to Japan. I visited Naoshima 5 years ago and stayed at Benesse House where Chichu museum is. I love the slow lifestyle, rich art/architecture culture and Setouchi sea! I’m from the area (shikoku) originally but living in Vancouver now. Your pictures made me miss home a little. Thank you so much for sharing! Now I’m on to making Soba! love your recipes 🙂


Love this recipe! My go-to make ahead meal for long flights is always a brown rice avocado / cucumber mixture inspired by your sushi bowl!


Love the photos! Your blog is one I read no matter what. Such a beautiful place to visit (both your blog and Japan).

Jilly Inspired

This looks like such a nice, light, healthy meal. I wonder where I could find dried soba noodles. I have seen the “fresh” ones at the grocery store but never tried them. Great photos, its too bad you had to wear masks. Hopefully the food and scenery made up for it!

Katy @ KatysKitchen

The same thing happens to me when I fly, so I don’t wait to be offered water. I ask for it, routinely. I also take a bottle of water with me, and avoid all coffee and soft drinks. I ALSO sit on the aisle and get up to walk as often as I can. I know that the flight crew doesn’t like this much, but when it comes to my own health and enjoyment of the travel that I am paying for, I do what I can to talk care of myself. When I started doing this, I stopped getting sick after a flight and the headaches stopped too. Good luck!


Regarding the collapsible silicone container, it’s made by DCI, and you can find it (and other varieties) on Amazon. I bought one there the first time I saw Heidi feature it in a column. It’s quite handy — the small is a great size for taking lunch to the office, or storing leftovers in the fridge.


This looks like a wonderful trip! I have long been a fan of your recipe for Otsu — looking forward to trying this varation.

Alicia @

Totally agree that travel and food is a tough thing. I’m traveling in Europe and am depending on healing chicken broth as a great way to re-balance after flights.

Alice Dishes

Beautiful. I spent a fair amount of time in Japan during college. Your photos make me long to return. Safe journey.


Heidi, Your traveling refreshment sounded wonderful, but I have to feel rather sorry for your seatmate(s), after all those chives, scallions, etc. etc.???
Also, Dear Heidi, the possessive of “it” is “its,” not “it’s.” Never mind, your prose is lovely, your photos are more than lovely, and the recipes are also wonderful. All best, Fru

HS: Thanks Fru! I’ll go back and find it. The typo gremlins always sneak in if I’m not extra vigilant.

Fru Teston

Hi Heidi! Love all your recipes and especially your posts relating to food that travels well but I have a question. Do you take ice packs with your food? Do they allow them (since they are basically a gel)? If not, what are your thoughts on how long food stays safe without the packs. Thank you!

HS: I don’t – but I do try to eat everything that day….

Paty Shaulis

I love Kyoto probably more so than Tokyo I think because it is more old Japan than modern.
Thanks for sharing the soba noodle recipe it looks delicious!

Jan @ Sprouts n Squats

I’ve been wanting to experiment with soba noodles and this may be just the inspiration I needed.
I’m trying to expand my repertoire of Asian dishes (beyond the basics I make at home)…if you have a pad thai recipe, I’d sure love to see it! ; )


Stunning photos and a delicious soba dish, thank you for sharing! I’ve never been to Japan but it’s on my buckets list, your photos have just added to my wanderlust 😀
I hope there wasn’t any customs issues with taking food onto the plane!

Ally @ Om Nom Ally

Hi. That sounds great. I’m going to remember this one for my travels. I can’t eat tofu though so may substitute tempeh. Or maybe even some toasted cashews. I’m supposed to stay away from soy due to my thyroid.


Heidi – great idea! I had supposed that since we are made to toss out water at security, no open food was allowed, meaning living on energy bars or what they sell at the airport post security. Wonderful idea and one I will definitely try next month!


This is so full of goodness!

Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar

Love the recipe and the pictures. I must say that many of the pictures I see of Japan remind me very much of northern California– the cold ocean, the temperate mixed forests, etc. Do you get that sense (since you have way more expertise in both places than I do)? Anyway, I really enjoy your blog. Thanks!

HS: In some ways Beth – but Japan definitely feels like its own place when you’re there. It’s funny, the place that reminded me most of parts of Northern California was driving through the area near the Serengheti – with the rolling golden hills. Beautiful.


This looks great.
Are there any customs issues when you take your own food along with you, I am never sure what is allowed or not? (I don’t live in the States) Love the container you packed it in, is it collapsible silicone? Can you share the brand name? Lastly what did you have to eat to survive the long return flight?

HS: Hi Sue – I’ve never had trouble, I’m careful not to bring any liquids related to my meals though. I bought that container at Flight 001 a year or two back.


seems tasty, but i would not really expect to have these ingredients on hand right before going on an extended trip 🙁


Lovely images and beautiful food.


With a view to no booze during the flight I feel this travel recipe should be renamed “Stone Cold Soba” maybe a feature or collection of your recipes that travel well.
The collapsible dish is a favourite of mine.
I always wear a multi pocket fishing vest when traveling light (hand luggage only) all the weight goes in the vest including my eating equipment and food, so collapsable dishes and put together multi task plastic cutlery.
I miss the polaroid images.
Your site is a tasty offering in a sea of foodie based blogs, I always lick my lips after reading the recipe and I’m a carnivore. Ricardo

HS: Thanks Ricardo! I actually did bring the big Polaroid with me as well – I’ll try to scan some of the shots at some point. And clever packing tip re: the fishing vest 🙂

Ricardo Della Limouchi

Thank you! 🙂 I’m leaving April 9th for Tokyo!


My husband and I just took Amtrak from Topeka, KS to Santa Fe (Lamy, NM actually then a short-shuttle with a delightful man, Tony who contracts with Amtrak). I developed an awfful sinus headache. Nasty thing. Almost closed my left eye entirely. Don’t know if it was altitude, or the Juniper pollen, but fresh ginger root in a cup of mild miso broth when we arrived at the hostel was a life-saver! Your pictures are lovely, and love soba noodles.

Nancy Noyes-Ward

Hi Heidi–great looking post! I lived in Kurashiki, Okayama-ken while teaching English in Japan. Did you get there by any chance? It is a wonderful little city!

Heidi Yoon

thanks for sharing!


This is such a great travel meal idea! I leave for New York this weekend and may have to consider making this for the flight.

Christina @ The Beautiful Balance

Beautiful photos, and I always love your recipes, so I’ll add this one to the list!


This sounds like the absolute perfect lunch for a plane trip or anywhere else! Have a wonderful trip and thanks for sharing your spectacular pictures. 🙂

Kate@Framed Cooks

Heidi: I do have a question: what kind of Soba noodles would you recommend? I have not had much luck with them- they are either gummy, flavorless or just plain not useable. Help!

HS: Hi Susan – the ones in the photo are Organic Planet – they’re a blend of buckwheat/wheat flour. I like them for this sort of preparation.

Susan Iseman

Love the photos and will make this recipe this week — thanks so much for this post. I’m also a big fan of your lunch boxes. I recall an older post where you had pictured a white lunchbox. Any chance you can share with your readers who makes the lunchbox in this post as well as the white canister lunchbox from your earlier post? Thanks!

HS: Good memory Benjamin! Let me go look – those are made by Kaico in Japan. And the collapsible lunch box in the post I picked up at Flight 001. I haven’t seen it in stock there lately though.


Gorgeous pics and lovely stories – not sure about that yellow smog though!
Will be re-reading your posts on Rome soon as planning our honeymoon there later in the year 🙂 gem

Gemma @ Well Seasoned

Stunning pictures! My mom is Japanese, so growing up we ate cold soba noodle salads like this all the time. She would pack them in my school lunches! This looks fabulous!

Marie @ Little Kitchie

The soba salad sounds wonderful. The paste is similar to the Chinese ginger scallion mixture for chicken that is both comforting and addictive. I am looking forward to trying this.
The pictures are beautiful. We hope to visit Japan one day and will definitely check with your tips.


Just lovely.

Emily K. @ Leaf Parade

These soba noodles look so good! I have been looking for good soba noodle recipes, will try this one soon!


I take it the paste will last a while in the ‘frig too? Maybe a couple of weeks? Sounds delicious.

HS: Hi Naomi – I try to use it within 3 or 4 days…..


Love it love it love it. The soba, your hair, Japan, your coat.
I’ll stop.

Bev @ Bev Cooks

Wow! Why don’t I do this when I travel…way better that eating airplane food.


Great post! Loved the pictures. I keep seeing soba everywhere these days! Need to make some soon.

Jamie | Thrifty Veggie Mama

Cold noodles salads are always great for long trips. When I travel I like to bring a sweet soy dressing and crunchy topping made from dried mushrooms, seaweed and sesame seeds. I heard Unami flavor is able to stand changes in altitude, meaning no taste is lost. Japan is so beautiful, thanks for sharing

Belinda @themoonblushbaker

It looks superb and that paste sounds pretty potent! Would love to try it sometime.

leaf (the indolent cook)

your travel meals are always the best… i get the most awful headache even after a few hours of train ride so i´m definitly going to give this a try, when i´m taking the next trip! can´t wait for reading even more about your visit to japan!


I love the idea of noodles for overseas trips … anything to avoid the sugary stuff they seem to bring out mid-flight 🙂

Amanda @ Easy Peasy Organic

Oh my, those pictures are beautiful. Are they analogue or digital?

HS: Hi Natalia – thank you! – they’re film.


I can’t wait to try this – love the addition of pine nuts (would not have thought to add). We here in the land of Australia have to endure gruesomely long flights wherever we go – so I’m totally hearing your dislike of the long haul!!

Deb Baker

Oh no, not another travel post. Now my heart won’t stop aching from all the wanderlust your posts usually cause me. As always, your pictures look lovely and so does your food, can’t wait to try out these soba. You really are quite inspiring.

Ole @cookingbrains

Wow, gorgeous. I need to remember to do this kind of thing for my next long haul flight. I find that depending on the airline I go with, the vegetarian meals can be so pitiful. Often just carbs on carbs, no protein in sight. Thanks for the recipe, and the beautiful photos.

Katie (The Muffin Myth)

I can’t wait to try this – love the addition of pine nuts (would not have thought to add). We here in the land of Australia have to endure gruesomely long flights wherever we go – so I’m totally hearing your dislike of the long haul!!

Deb Baker

I get a lovely sense of tranquility from these photographs. Cold soba is such a save on a hot day!


hi heidi, i often enjoy a soba ‘salad’ like this one, but not with shallots and pine nuts.. that sounds good too! i’d also enjoy them with wasabi as well.
loved seeing your (and wayne’s) photos from japan on IG. i’ve never made it to naoshima (nor hokkaido, shikoku, or okinawa for that matter) but would love to one day. come back soon! x


I love your traveling meals! I’m preparing for a long flight to Ireland, and this soba noodle bowl might just be what I need.

la domestique

This looks amazing! Thank you for sharing. I love the idea of using a flavorful paste with cold noodles.

Broke and Beautiful

Thanks for posting. I love your photography and enjoy what you have shared to date about Japan. We went a couple of years ago and your posts really helped inform our choices. I look forward to hearing and seeing more. x J


This trip sounds perfectly serene and the cold noodles would be perfect mid-flight. Soothing, but also refreshing. Great recipe, great photos.


Love your travel posts Heidi xx

Emma Galloway

looks like a wonderful trip- I’d love to see more pictures and hear more about it!

Simply Life

Thank you for those stunning images. Wow, breathtaking. And your noodles – glad they were just what you needed for the long trip. And I don’t know anyone who does well on flights after the 6-7 hour mark. I don’t think you’re alone there!

Averie @ Averie Cooks

Looks yummy!

christina smith

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