Like Water for Chocolate

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Themes and Colors
Tradition vs. Revolution Theme Icon
Femininity and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Emotion and Repression Theme Icon
Food and Cooking Theme Icon
Violence and Abuse Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Like Water for Chocolate, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Food and Cooking Theme Icon

The theme of food is central to the novel’s structure and meaning. Each chapter begins with a recipe for a dish that Tita cooks during that chapter. Often interspersing her narration with detailed cooking instructions, Esquivel uses food as a constant in the changing lives of her characters and as a medium to express many different truths.

Within the confines of her abusive relationship with her mother and within traditional female domestic roles, Tita finds freedom and expression through her relationship with food. The kitchen is the only thing that belongs to Tita; there she feels the most powerful and free to exist without the threat of Mama Elena’s cruelty. Tita is born in the kitchen, and she spends much of her childhood there with Nacha, the cook. Tita loves exploring the mysteries of cooking and she creates her own imaginative world with Nacha. When Nacha dies after Pedro and Rosaura’s wedding, Tita becomes the head cook—but she doesn’t resent that she is given a servant’s post. Rather, she is happy to have a domain that belongs to her, where “flavors, smells, textures, and the effects they could have were beyond Mama Elena’s iron command.”

In the novel, food helps people to forge and maintain all forms of relationships. Most notably, Tita sees Nacha as her “real mother.” Tita feels and accepts Nacha’s love through the sustenance she provides in her meals, and they build their relationship around their shared love of the kitchen. In contrast, Nacha never develops a relationship with Rosaura, who rejects Nacha’s food from an early age. Before weddings, baptisms and funerals, the women in the novel gather together around food preparation. The ritual of cooking brings mothers, daughters, and sisters together even when their relationships are troubled, and is central to marking the importance of life events. Cooking is an act of love, as is eating food that has been lovingly prepared.

In the novel the ability to create, enjoy, and digest food is a sign of a full heart and spirit, whereas a lack of interest in food, cooking, or an inability to digest, are often associated with being less fully alive or capable of love. The two characters whose relationship to food is most thoroughly explored are Rosaura and Tita, but some connection is also made with Mama Elena, Nacha, Gertrudis and Pedro. At a young age, Tita is willing to try all of the strangest and most exotic recipes Nacha can cook up – a symbol for her desire and willingness to let herself feel and experience life fully. In contrast, Rosaura is described as a “picky” eater, who shows little interest in the kitchen and fails on the one occasion that she tries to cook for Pedro. Rosaura is often described as nauseous; later in life she develops persistent gas and ultimately dies of chronic indigestion. When Tita cooks food infused with her emotions of lust and desire, both Rosaura and Mama Elena describe the food as “too salty,” while Pedro and Gertrudis both feel Tita’s love and passion affecting their own state of being. In contrast with Gertrudis and Pedro, whose hearts are open to receiving love, Mama Elena and Rosaura are both unwilling to allow others to be close to them.

Furthermore, the ability to feed others is an important part of what makes a mother in the world of the novel. Tita, who is portrayed as deeply loving and generous, devotes much of her life to cooking for and feeding her family. Even when food supplies run short during the war, and even in hard emotional times, Tita consistently makes sure that everyone is fed. Tita so embodies the nurturing side of femininity that she magically begins lactating simply out of love for her nephew, Roberto. In contrast, Rosaura, who is passionless and motivated by outward appearances, finds her breasts are dry when both of her children are born. Mama Elena, whose violence and cruelty frame her as the anti-feminine maternal figure, was also unable to nurse Tita.

While cooking is a traditionally appropriate way for women to occupy themselves, it can also be used as an opportunity for subversion. Tita’s magical cooking allows her to share all of the emotions she is expected to repress, impacting others with extreme consequences. By letting her tears for Pedro fall into the wedding cake batter, Tita spreads her sadness to all the guests. The wedding ends with everyone crying over lost love and vomiting all over the floor. Though Tita doesn’t ruin Rosaura’s wedding intentionally, her sadness effectively “poisons” the bride, groom, and everyone else complicit in Tita’s suffering – giving Tita an unintended vengeance. Later, after Mama Elena forbids Pedro and Tita from talking to each other or being alone in their house, Tita starts to see her cooking as a way of conveying her love to Pedro. Tita makes delicious meals with Pedro’s enjoyment in mind, and Pedro compliments Tita’s cooking as a way of returning her love. Through her ownership of the kitchen, Tita can explore the boundaries of creativity and impact others in an intimate way. Even while she appears to be obeying Mama Elena and conforming to her gender role, Tita is rebelling and finding agency.

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Food and Cooking ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Food and Cooking appears in each Chapter of Like Water for Chocolate. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Food and Cooking Quotes in Like Water for Chocolate

Below you will find the important quotes in Like Water for Chocolate related to the theme of Food and Cooking.
Chapter 1: January Quotes

Sometimes she would cry for no reason at all, like when Nacha chopped onions, but since they both knew the cause of those tears, they didn’t pay them much mind. They made them a source of entertainment, so that during her childhood Tita didn’t distinguish between tears of laughter and tears of sorrow. For her laughter was a form of crying. Likewise for Tita the joy of living was wrapped up in the delights of food.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Nacha
Related Symbols: Crying/ Tears
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator emphasizes Tita’s wide range of emotions, which she naturally embraces before she learns to repress them. Tita is a sensitive and passionate person, who loves the different textures and experiences that human emotion brings. Within the novel, crying is a often symbol of the depth and power of female emotion.

The narrator immediately connects Tita’s emotional depth to her intense relationship with food, which provides Tita a means for rich sensory experiences, creativity and self-expression. The narrator makes this observation about Tita after describing Tita’s childhood. Born on the kitchen table and left to the care of Nacha, the cook, Tita developed a love of cooking as a child. She played in the kitchen, and loved trying new and strange foods.

By connecting Tita’s emotional depth to her relationship with food, the narrator foreshadows the magical ability Tita later develops of infusing her repressed emotions into her cooking.


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Chapter 2: February Quotes

She felt like screaming. Yes, she was having problems, when they had chosen something to be neutered, they’d made a mistake, they should have chosen her. At least then there would be some justification for not allowing her to marry and giving Rosaura her place beside the man she loved.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Mama Elena (Elena de la Garza) , Pedro Musquiz
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Tita is castrating roosters, which are then called capons, to be served at Pedro and Rosaura’s wedding. Mama Elena has put Tita in charge of all of the food preparation as punishment after Tita tried to get out of going to Rosaura’s engagement party. She has threatened Tita not to cry or show any sadness, though Tita hates castrating and killing the roosters. When Mama Elena catches Tita trembling and sweating as she castrates the first chicken, she asks Tita whether or not they are “having problems,” by which she means to threaten Tita for showing distress.

Tita’s distress comes from her self-identification with the roosters. Like the roosters, Tita feels “castrated” by Mama Elena. She is perfectly able to fall in love, marry and have a family, but Mama Elena cuts off Tita’s future by severing her relationship with Pedro and making it clear that Tita isn’t allowed love or a family. The roosters are sacrificed to feed the wedding guests. Similarly, Tita must sacrifice herself and her normal human responses in order to focus on preparing the food for the wedding.

Chapter 3: March Quotes

Mama Elena’s eyes were as sharp as ever and she knew what would happen if Pedro and Tita ever got the chance to be alone […] She had let one little thing slip past her: With Nacha dead, Tita was the best qualified of all the women in the house to fill the vacant post in the kitchen, and in there flavors, smells, textures and the effects they could have were beyond Mama Elena’s iron command.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Mama Elena (Elena de la Garza) , Pedro Musquiz
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

Pedro and Rosaura have now been married for about a year, living on the ranch the whole time. Mama Elena is unable to stop Pedro and Tita’s love, so she does everything she can to prevent them from having the chance to act on or express their feelings. In this chapter, Pedro upsets Mama Elena and Rosaura by bringing Tita roses, which Tita promptly gets rid of by making quail in rose petal sauce. It is this same dish that, infused with Tita’s passion, communicates her feelings fully to Pedro and stimulates Gertrudis’ passionate frenzy.

Tita’s emotional relationship with food represents the depth and power of her feelings. No matter how hard Mama Elena tries to repress Tita’s passion and deny her autonomy, Tita always has the kitchen as her outlet for creativity, rebellion, and communication. Mama Elena, dispassionate about food and in denial about the power of emotion and love, fails to see how Tita continues to subtly assert her agency and express her love for Pedro.

It occurred to her that she could use her mother’s strength right now. Mama Elena was merciless, killing with single blow. But then again not always. For Tita she had made an exception; she had been killing her a little at a time since she was a child, and she still hadn’t quite finished her off. Pedro and Rosaura’s marriage had left Tita broken in both heart and in mind, like the quail.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Mama Elena (Elena de la Garza)
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Tita is killing quail to prepare the quail in rose petal sauce. When she first tried to catch and kill one of the quail, she twists its neck too hesitantly, and the maimed quail runs around with its head hanging off. She has raised and fed the quail, and her affection for it makes it hard to kill. She discovers that it is better to kill quickly and without letting emotions interfere, so as not to make the animal suffer more.

Tita often thinks of Mama Elena as efficient or skilled at violent acts, such as slaughtering animals for food. Tita, abused physically and emotionally by Mama Elena, identifies with the suffering of the quail. This passage also builds the image of Mama Elena as a sadistic abuser, who enjoys the power she derives from making Tita suffer. She might be “merciful” in killing animals quickly, but Mama Elena is totally merciless in drawing out Tita’s pain.

It was as if a strange alchemical process had dissolved her entire being in the rose petal sauce, in the tender flesh of the quails, in the wine, in every one of the meal’s aromas. That was the way she entered Pedro’s body, hot, voluptuous, perfumed, totally sensuous.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Gertrudis, Pedro Musquiz
Related Symbols: Heat and Fire
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

The De la Garza family is at the dinner table eating Tita’s quail in rose petal sauce. This is the meal that awakens in Gertrudis such an insatiable physical lust that the heat from her body causes the shower to catch fire and provides the catalyst for her to run away with captain Juan Alejandrez.

Tita’s cooking, infused with her own lustful thoughts about Pedro, makes Pedro feel as if he were devouring Tita herself—or as if Tita were “entering” him, in a reversal of the archetypal masculine/feminine sexual roles. Tita’s passion and creativity creates texture and life in her food, speaking to the power of food as an intimate, sensory experience. Pedro and Tita’s repressed desire then creates such energy that it transforms eating into an act of sexual intimacy. The metaphor of devouring Tita’s flesh through her food alludes to the Catholic concept of the communion bread transforming into Christ’ body. Tita and Pedro’s love, however sinful by religious standards, holds such devotion and sacrifice that it evokes religious imagery. Their love, not their belief systems, is the thing most sacred to them.

Chapter 4: April Quotes

She stopped grinding, straightened up, and proudly lifted her chest so Pedro could see it better. His scrutiny changed their relationship forever. After that penetrating look that saw through clothes, nothing would ever be the same. Tita saw through her own flesh how fire transformed the elements, how a lump of corn flour is changed into a tortilla, how a soul that hasn’t been warmed by the fire of love is lifeless, like a useless ball of corn flour. In a few moment’s time, Pedro had transformed Tita’s breasts from chaste to experienced flesh, without even touching them.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Pedro Musquiz
Related Symbols: Heat and Fire
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

Rosaura has just given birth to her first child, Roberto, and Tita is preparing food for his baptism. Pedro walks into the kitchen to find Tita alone, kneeling on the floor over a bowl, rhythmically grinding the nuts for the turkey mole.

Since Pedro’s marriage to Rosaura, he and Tita have not yet kissed or been intimate in any physical way. Tita’s virginity still feels like a burden to her, a reminder of her lost love and her lack of control over her future. Her virginity is strongly connected to her hopelessness and loneliness. The sexual gaze of the man she loves, then, is enough to make Tita feel unchaste and “experienced,” making her feel alive again. The symbol of fire is especially significant, as fire represents the effect of love and passion on the human spirit. The fire of Pedro’s gaze “transforms” Tita in the way that fire transforms corn flour into tortillas. Tita often identifies with food, reflecting how she sees cooking as an ongoing point of reference for understanding the world.

Chapter 7: July Quotes

You know how men are. They all say they won’t eat off a plate that isn’t clean.

Related Characters: Chencha (speaker), Tita de la Garza
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

After the bandits rape Chencha, she enters a dark and enduring depression. She explains to Tita that what upsets her most is her fear that no man will want her now that she is no longer a virgin. It is noteworthy that Chencha doesn’t talk about the trauma of her experience or her own sense of anger or loss. What she focuses on is how this experience will affect her future prospects at love and marriage, in a society where men value virginity. The social consequences of rape fill Chencha with anxiety, robbing her of the mental space to process her deeper emotions about the traumatic event.

Chencha’s choice of words in this passage draws attention to the male views of women that Chencha has encountered in her life experience. In the expression she references, women are pictured as the “plate” from which men “eat.” In this metaphor, sexual experiences are the food, men the consumers, and women the medium or vessel from which men consume—a kind of perverse twisting of the (usually positive) food and cooking imagery of the novel. To Chencha, this degree of male objectification of women is not reprehensible but to be expected. Though her society does not condemn men for these views, it is clear that the novel does. Furthermore, the novel offers several positive portrayals of male characters who value women regardless of their virginity or sexual histories, such as Chencha’s future husband Jesús, Gertrudis’ husband Juan Alejandrez, and Dr. John Brown.

Chapter 8: August Quotes

Tita was literally “like water for chocolate” – she was on the verge of boiling over. How irritable she was!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Rosaura , Pedro Musquiz
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the novel, Tita is living alone with Pedro, Rosaura, and Esperanza after the death of Mama Elena. Tita is preparing dinner for John, who is coming over to officially propose marriage. Rosaura has recently made it clear that with Esperanza, she plans to continue the family tradition of forcing the youngest daughter to stay at home forever with her mother. Filled with jealousy over John, Pedro has been annoying Tita with his pleas for her not to marry and his frequent fits of anger. Tita is angry with Pedro for his sense of entitlement and unwillingness to see how he could have prevented this by not marrying Rosaura. Further, she is furious with Rosaura for continuing the very same tradition that has been the source of so much of Tita’s suffering.

The expression “like water for chocolate” means to be at the height of anger. It refers to water when it reaches the boiling stage. In Mexican recipes for hot chocolate, sometimes water is used in place of milk to create a different flavor and texture. With this titular phrase, then, Tita’s emotions are once again linked to food and cooking, as well as to a sense of extreme heat or coldness.

Chapter 12: December Quotes

Esperanza went to the best school, with the object of improving her mind. Tita, for her part, taught her something just as valuable: the secrets of love and life as revealed by the kitchen.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tita de la Garza, Esperanza
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

While raising Esperanza together, Pedro and Tita convince Rosaura to let the child attend school to gain a more well-rounded education than she could at home. This is a struggle because Rosaura believes that, according to their agreement, she is the only one in charge of Esperanza’s “education.” Meanwhile, she agrees to let Tita teach Esperanza how to cook and take care of feeding her. Rosaura thus believes that she (Rosaura herself0 will be the only one influencing her daughter’s thinking. Tita subversively influences Esperanza, however, not only by convincing Rosaura that Esperanza should go to school, but by sneaking her own worldview into Esperanza’s culinary lessons.

The phrase “the secrets of love and life as revealed by the kitchen” captures one of the essential philosophies of the novel. Food and cooking offer a lens for understanding and experimenting with love, the self, and the world. Tita knows this, and it gives her power over other characters who try to oppress her, particularly Mama Elena and Rosaura.