In the wonderful instant-classic comic cookbook Noodles, Rice, and Everything Spice by Christina De Witte and Mallika Kauppinen, readers will discover a wealth of information about Thai cooking. This isn’t just limited to the delicious recipes (although there are many of those). The book also includes historical, cultural and geographical context on the cuisine, tips on procuring the correct ingredients at the Asian store, adorable cartoon chef versions of the creators and so much more besides!

Comics Beat caught up with De Witte and Kauppinen over email. We asked all about the origins of the memorable title, about the decision to include food photography alongside the comic art and the most difficult question of them all: which recipes in the entire cookbook are their respective favorites?

Noodles, Rice and Everything Spice cover

AVERY KAPLAN: While readers who pick up Noodles, Rice and Everything Spice will be treated to a comic version of the story, I was hoping you wouldn’t mind sharing how you met and came to work on this project together?

CHRISTINA DE WITTE: Our friendship primarily existed online, as Mallika was my Thai teacher. I found her via the language learning platform What first started as a teacher-student dynamic quickly blossomed into a virtual friendship, we just clicked! One day, I got the offer from my agent Mark Gottlieb to write a Thai comic cookbook. There was only one person I had in mind that I wanted to do this with…

MALLIKA KAUPPINEN: I believe that Christina and I were destined to meet and work on this book together. She chose to study with me partly because I had my Thai consonant drawing next to my face in my profile picture – I find it funny because I usually don’t draw, but on the one occasion that I did, I met Christina. One day, she called me and asked if I wanted to join her on this comic book cookbook project. I’m not sure if she finished her sentence, I just said yes, like… I don’t remember how many times. And thank you, Mark!

KAPLAN: Was there a specific moment that the clever title originated?

DE WITTE: Yes, actually there was. I was sitting with my friend Shannen on the tram in my hometown. Mallika and I already had a few rounds of title ideas and we almost lost all inspiration. Suddenly Shannen bursted out: “What about ‘Noodles, Rice and Everything Spice?”, which, later, became the final title.

KAUPPINEN: It was harder than I thought. We had so many good ideas, but it seemed none of them were quite right. At some point I gave up. Luckily, Shannen came up with this brilliant title. The first time I heard it, I thought “That’s it, this is the one!” It perfectly suits our book because the recipes are literally about noodles, rice, and all the other things that make the food flavorful. And the title also fits the playful, adorable drawings.

KAPLAN: At what point did you decide to integrate photography into Noodles, Rice and Everything Spice in addition to comic art?

DE WITTE: My idea had always been to combine multiple art forms to create something unique. We had illustration, text, design… but I wanted some bright photography as well. Luckily for us, photographer Farn Saetia was immediately on board. Fun fact: she’s Thai, too!

KAUPPINEN: I’d like to add that I love what Christina did here: adding those funny, cute characters with the photography. It’s just super creative. Farn is amazing! 

KAPLAN: Why are comics as a medium so well suited for nonfiction, and by extension, cookbooks?

DE WITTE: I personally think comics are the perfect blend of text and image. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a good reader, nor do I like to read actual books. I really enjoy graphic novels and I only discovered them a few years ago. I think it’s an underrated genre.

KAUPPINEN: As a person who was not into comics before, I see combining a cookbook and comics as a clever way to create excellent presentations. This book is the proof!

KAPLAN: In addition to the recipes, Noodles, Rice and Everything Spice also offers a plethora of context on Thai cooking, including historical and geographic information, plus (among other things) how to find specific ingredients at an Asian store and pop-up tips from Chef Mallika. How did you go about collecting, aggregating and organizing this vast swath of information? Was there any particular detail you felt was especially important to include?

KAUPPINEN: I’d say it’s a lifetime collection. It’s the combination of my cooking experience starting from the age of seven and the knowledge gained throughout my time in school – I basically grew up with it.

However, life in Finland helped me a lot with how to find ingredients at an Asian store and the ingredient substitutions. When writing this book, Christina and I brainstormed the content. The challenge was that we had to take out some parts to save space in the book. Sometimes I wasn’t sure which pieces of information should be kept or cut, so thanks to Christina for not allowing me to delete awesome parts, aka the Origin Story of Noodles. And many thanks to the editing and design team – Kimmy Tejasindhu and Chloe Rawlins – who helped put this book in order.

The detail that was exceptional for me was the sauces. Since there are several different kinds of soy sauces, it’s important that you use the right one in your recipe. I wouldn’t replace ‘black’ with ‘black sweet’ soy sauce in a recipe. For this reason, Christina made sure we had the best drawings guiding readers before they visit an Asian grocery store.

KAPLAN: From cute depictions of you both as cartoon chefs to more realistic depictions of meals and ingredients, there is no shortage of amazing art in Noodles, Rice and Everything Spice. Do you have a personal favorite picture from the book? Did any image pose a particular challenge to create?

DE WITTE: Oh, yes, there were a bunch of hurdles to overcome! For instance, my illustration style is always black and white. For this project, I had to use full color, which was quite the challenge. Other than that, all the full page illustrations are my favorite. 

KAUPPINEN: Every page looks amazing to me, especially the full-page illustrations. However, my favorite is the full page where the characters of Christina and I stand in front of the slightly opened doors, getting ready to share our Thai food and culture with the world.

KAPLAN: I understand that this may be a difficult decision, but do you each have a favorite recipe from Noodles, Rice and Everything Spice?

DE WITTE: Oof… that’s a hard one, indeed! I’ve been making quite a lot of recipes myself from the book, but I think I might go with Seua Rong Hai (Crying Tiger) or Khai Jeow (Thai Fried Omelet). Oh, and Cha Yen (Thai Iced Tea) is a staple now at home.

KAUPPINEN: Hmm, I’d choose Khao Man Gai and Pad Gaprao because these two foods have some special memories for me.

Well, Khao Man Gai is the dish that reminds me of the trips to a fresh market with my dad when I was little. Today, it’s still one of my favorite dishes and I cook it a lot at home for my husband and son.

Pad Gaprao is my all-time favorite. I used to take train trips with my mom a lot. Usually before stepping on the train, I already thought of getting Pad Gaprao with fried egg for dinner. Eating it was literally the highlight of my train trip.

KAPLAN: Do you have any personal rituals or accompaniments for cooking, like specific cookware, family conversation or a favorite album to listen to?

DE WITTE: My trusty rice cooker has been such a great partner in crime the past few years. I used to make the criminal mistake of cooking rice in bags… my Thai ancestors would literally curse me for it.

Other than that I love blasting music in the background, sometimes even Thai jazz from the sixties and seventies. Sounds of Siam vol. 1 and 2 are absolute bangers.

KAUPPINEN: Rice cooker is a must-have item, but other than that I can adjust.

Regarding music while cooking, it depends. When I’m in a hurry, I don’t listen to anything and try to get the cooking done as fast as possible. But when I can take my time, I like to put on slow music in the background, usually something like pop or acoustic.

KAPLAN: Have you had the opportunity to share Noodles, Rice and Everything Spice with any of those who helped teach you how to cook? What kind of reactions did you get, if so?

DE WITTE: My parents divorced when I was young, so unfortunately my mom and I didn’t really get the opportunity to cook a lot together. I think creating this cookbook is a way of reclaiming some of those lost moments.

KAUPPINEN: My aunt taught me how to cook. During the time when we were living together, she was the main chef and I just helped out. Whenever I made food on my own, she often told me to add more flavors to the dishes. However, last year when I visited her in Thailand, I made Pad Gaprao and she said “Umm…Roi”, which means “delicious” in the Thai southern dialect.

KAPLAN: Is there anything else you’d like me to include?

DE WITTE: “Chok dee, na kha!” (Cheers) 

KAUPPINEN: I’d like to give a big smile and say “khop khun kha!” (Thank you) for supporting us!

Noodles, Rice, and Everything Spice is available at a local bookstore and/or public library near you now.