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

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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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.


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