You have to try this one! Soba noodles are tossed with a fiery ginger-sesame dressing and a generous amount of cucumbers, scallions, and pan-seared tofu. For over twenty years this has been a desert island recipe in our house.


The last time I worked on this page was the day it was published here - July 19, 2004! We still make Otsu regularly, especially as the weather warms, and I thought this favorite deserved some fresh photos and a little update. I originally sold this recipe hard and asked you to “listen up close, because I am going to tell you about the best recipe I've come across all year.” Lol. Bold! Twenty years on though, I stand by this sentiment. It’s a great recipe, and here’s the story behind it.

otsu noodle bowl with soba, cucumbers and tofu

July, 2004 - A couple weeks back Wayne came home, pulled a page ripped from a magazine out of his pocket, unfolded it, and placed it on my desk. It was a recipe for a dish named Otsu, and was from a neat little restaurant nearby called Pomelo. Pomelo is tiny -- and when I say tiny, I mean it is smaller than my kitchen here at home, the kind of place where you feel as if you can almost reach out and touch all four walls. The food there is delicious, and unless you are sitting at one of two tables, you will get to see your food prepared to order on a four burner stove as you sit at a stylish little counter overlooking the kitchen. We go to the Pomelo on Judah, there is another one on Church Street, and I think that one may be bigger. ingredients on counter including soba, cucumber, dressing, cilantro, green onions

Otsu in Japanese can mean something is strange; quaint; stylish; chic; spicy; witty; tasty; romantic. In line with its namesake, this buckwheat noodle salad has a few distinctive sides to it. It is amazingly flavorful. It is substantial. And it has a feisty kick to it while being cool and refreshing at the same time. The noodles are tossed with a cayenne-spiked ginger-sesame dressing plus lots of cucumbers, scallions, and pan-seared tofu.

close-up photo of soba noodles

Otsu is great in so many scenarios! Lunch, dinner, potluck, picnic, warm or cold -- this salad is going to be a hit. After you eat a serving of Otsu, you feel full but not sluggish, and you are ready to get on with your day.

plate of otsu on table with soba, cucumbers and tofu The recipe was published in a publication called Culture & Cuisine. I wanted to share the recipe with you all so I emailed Rolf Bachmann at Pomelo and he was generous enough to give me permission. Enjoy! otsu noodle bowl with soba, cucumbers and tofu

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5 from 5 votes

  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Fresh ginger, cut into a 1-inch cube, peeled, and grated
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned brown-rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup shoyu, soy sauce, or tamari
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 12 ounces dried soba noodles
  • 12 ounces extra-firm tofu
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced
  • 1 small handful of cilantro sprigs, for garnish
  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
  1. Make the dressing by combining the zest, ginger, honey, cayenne, and salt in a food processor (or use a hand blender) and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice, rice vinegar, and shoyu, and pulse to combine. With the machine running, drizzle in the oils. Taste and make any needed adjustments.
  2. Cook the soba in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water just until tender, then drain and rinse under cold running water.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, drain the tofu, pat it dry, and cut it into rectangles roughly the size of your thumb (½ inch thick and 1 inch long). Cook the tofu in a dry nonstick (or well-seasoned) skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the pieces are browned on one side. Toss gently once or twice, then continue cooking for another minute or so, until the tofu is firm, golden, and bouncy.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, the 1/4 cup cilantro, the green onions, cucumber, and about 1/2 cup of the dressing. Toss until well combined. Add the tofu and toss again gently.
  5. Serve on a platter, garnished with the cilantro sprigs and the toasted sesame seeds.

Serves 4-6.

Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
10 mins
Total Time
30 mins
If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Recipe Rating


This is definitely one of my favorite dishes now. Wow! Very delicious! Easy to put together, and wonderful for leftovers. Thank you!

Maria S

    Thanks Maria!

    Heidi Swanson

Love this. It is one of our favorites now!


This recipe is very unique. I printed the recipe back in 2012 and have been making it ever since. It’s perfect for a summer day or taking to work for lunch.


    Thanks G!

    Heidi Swanson

My singular regret is I did not make this sooner.

Gail W-H

    So happy you liked it Gail!

    Heidi Swanson

I have loved and made this many times, since 2004♥️


This looks fantastic! I live in Tokyo, so the ingredients are all easy to find, as are fresh soba noodles. Can't wait to try this. I often make cold soba noodles (zarusoba) with the usual dressing, some sesame seeds, and maybe tempura on the side. This is a fresh (and spicy!) change of pace. Thanks.


I went to Pomelo on Church when I was visiting a couple years ago. SO good. I just found your site and I am excited. Everytime I consider buying a cookbook, I think the same thing, but I never use the ones I have! I always just make something up. Soba noodles are a staple for these inventions. Thanks for the recipe.


Heidi - thanks so much for getting this recipe. Pomelo is one of my favorite restaurants in town - so small and unassuming with just great dishes coming out of the kitchen. I can never understand why people opt for the tables when sitting at the bar and watching the cooks is so interesting!


One other thing....The recipe doesn't call for this, but I salted my soba water (generously) before boiling the noodles. Not sure if this is traditional or not, but I think it made quite a difference, the way salting pasta water is important when cooking Italian. -h


YUM! i came home from running and this sounded perfect. i had it for dinner and it was delicious! and you're right, felt satisfied but not stuffed. the recipe used up the rest of my soba noodles and sesame oil that i had on hand. time to restock!


Yummm! This sounds awesome! I'm gonna make it this week.


Great looking recipe! Thanks for the effort to bring it to us. Going into the file now....

Alder Yarrow

Hi Chika, I enjoy your site often as well! So the whole menu at Pomelo is kind of like that -- a little Italian, Thai, or Japanese influence here --Cuban or Southwest there....Somehow it actually works. Here is their menu. http://www.pomelosf.com/NGJUDIeasu04.htm


Hi Heidi, First time commenter, but been enjoying your blog for almost a year now and love it :-) Although it may not be exactly authentic to pair tofu with buckwheat noodle in Japan, I can tell this salad IS delicious - from the list of ingredients (ginger, lemon, cayenne, soy sauce, and sesame oil... mmm!) and from the pic, too! Indeed, the combo is really "otsu" I guess.... Will definitely try it!


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