Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies, as its full title suggests, is a hybrid work, combining the elements of a historical novel set during the turbulent times of the Mexican Revolution, the mystical and healing art of food that Esquivel learned in her grandmother’s kitchen, and a highly romantic love story. The story unfolds through the twelve divisions of the novel, one chapter for each month of the year, beginning with January and ending with December, with one recipe per chapter, each recipe in some way relevant to the events that will occur in that chapter. After the list of ingredients, the narrative begins with instructions for the preparation of that month’s recipe. The cookbook-style organization of the text blends with a romantic story that many critics consider a clever parody of the typical romance novel.
The heroine of the novel, Tita de la Garza, is born in the kitchen and raised there by the Indian family servant, Nacha. As the youngest of three daughters of the domineering matriarch, Mamá Elena, Tita is required to take care of her mother until her mother’s death, forsaking any life of her own. Tita falls in love with Pedro. Pedro courts Tita in hopes of marrying her, but the tradition of caretaking (a tradition invented by Esquivel for her purposes in the novel) prevents their marriage. Frustrated but determined, Pedro marries Tita’s sister, Rosaura, in order to be close to Tita, but Tita envies Pedro’s intimacy with Rosaura and bemoans his lack of intimacy with her. Though Mamá Elena is aware of Tita’s feelings for Pedro, she forces Tita to prepare the cake that will be served at her sister’s wedding. Tita’s tears season the batter with sorrow and longing and transfer her emotions to the wedding guests, who suffer uncontrollable melancholy and sobbing before forcefully vomiting their meal.
Tita’s most provocative recipe is “Quail in Rose Petal Sauce,” which causes all those who eat it to become consumed with the same passionate desire with which Tita crushes the rose petals. In an attempt to put an end to Pedro and Tita’s love, Mamá Elena sends Rosaura and Pedro, with their son, to the United States to separate the would-be lovers. Away from his beloved Aunt Tita, the child dies, and Tita, who (magically) had nursed him despite having never been pregnant, suffers a nervous breakdown. She spends some time in Texas under the treatment of a kindly but very boring American doctor, John Brown. Dr. Brown asks Tita to marry...
(The entire section is 1045 words.)