Like Water for Chocolate


Does your family have any traditions? Do you eat certain foods for certain
holidays? Traditional values and family are important in many cultures, but they
seem to play an especially important role to Mexicans (Microsoft Encarta
Encyclopedia). One of the most important parts of their culture is food. Much of
Mexican’s daily routines and traditions revolve around the ritual of preparing
the food and eating it (Mexican Cuisine and Cooking). In Laura Esquivel’s
novel, Like Water for Chocolate, the food (recipes) and tradition are the main
part of the book just as they are the main part of the Mexican tradition.

Esquivel’s novel is very different from most books. Her novel incorporates
recipes into the book in order to tell a story. These recipes, however, are not
only formulas, but they are memories and traditions being passed down from
generation to generation. Each chapter begins with a new recipe, and these
recipes are used to tell Tita’s life story, the main character and narrator in
Like Water for Chocolate. Tita becomes the focus of her family. This occurs
because she is most closely connected with food preparation. This closeness to
the food is seen from the first “scene” in the book where she is born. “Tita
made her entrance into this world, prematurely, right there on the kitchen table
amid the smells of simmering noodle soup, thyme, bay leaves, and cilantro,
steamed milk, garlic, and of course, onion.” (Esquivel 5-6). This shows Tita’s
connection to food which grows through out the book. Tita prepares certain
dishes for special occasions and at different times of the year.

Not only does Tita prepare certain dishes for different occasions, but
Mexican’s also prepare different dishes for certain occasions. For example, a
tradition for a wealthy Mexican family is what is called a country gathering.
This is a gathering of family members. At this gathering, they began with a
breakfast of fruit, eggs, beans, chilaquiles, coffee, milk, and pastries. They
would then go out on horseback after their typical breakfast (Lomnitz and Perez-Lizaur
187). Some of the holidays that they make special dishes for include: Dia de la
Candelaria, day of the dead, and Christmas. Dia de la Candelaria is the day that
marks the end of the Christmas season. On this day, it is a tradition to eat
tamales and drink atole, a drink that goes with tamales and is made from
cornstarch. This is not the only part of this tradition but it is what most
Mexican’s think of when they think of this day. The traditional Christmas Eve
meal is usually turkey and other Mexican foods that go with it (Mexican
Culture). Different dishes are also used for events such as pregnancy, sickness,
marriage, and almost any event that could happen in a persons life.

In Esquivel’s novel, the recipe that is made in each chapter is selected
based on what happened in the chapter. Tita prepares turkey mole for Roberto’s
baptism (65). Then later on in the novel to help Tita’s “sickness”,
Chencha prepares ox-tail soup to cure what no medicines had been able to cure
(125). For marriage, Tita prepares a certain kind of wedding cake with icing and
a certain filling. Tita takes her time in preparing each dish and makes sure to
follow each recipe or formula carefully.

However, following the recipe may not ensure the dish turns out as it is
intended to. Esquivel seems to believe that in the recipes, there are more than
just tangible ingredients; there is something more to the recipes that is
intangible. These intangible ingredients consist of love, patience, sorrow, and
hate all of which are feelings that Tita has throughout the novel. These “extra”
ingredients cannot be seen by just looking at the dish. They can only be “seen”
when the meal or dish has been eaten. For example, the meal that Tita prepares
with the rose petals. She prepares this meal with passion and love. However,
this is not seen until Gertrudis gets in the shower and a soldier, Juan, smells
the aroma that is coming from her. Esquivel elaborates,

The aroma from Gertrudis’ body guided him. He got there just in time to
find her racing through the field. Then he knew why he’s been drawn there.
This woman desperately needed a man to quench the red-hot fire that was raging
inside her. A man equal to loving someone who needed love as much as she did, a
man like him. (55)

This is a direct effect from the extra ingredient, passion which she felt for
Pedro, that was added by Tita