The Taste of Emotions: How Tita Cooked Her Identity into Her Food
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. — The Narrator in Laura Esquivel’s 1989 Like Water for Chocolate
Cooking food is like writing a letter; it is a way in which people communicate. Letters come in many forms, whether they be from an angry employer or a loving grandmother. Emotions of the writer are felt in the words of a letter, just as the emotions of the cook are felt in the food that is prepared. Tita, born from tears in the kitchen, conveys her emotions through her cooking. As part of a Catholic family in 19th century Mexico, Tita’s mother, Mama Elena, follows strict traditions as she runs the family, one of which being that Tita cannot marry since she is the youngest daughter. After falling in love at an early age with Pedro, Tita spends the rest of her life expressing her love for him, as well as resentment towards the marital tradition. Tita’s cooking evokes her emotions in those that eat her food, which in turn catalyzes unusual reactions and ultimately allows Tita to assert her identity.
Tita’s thoughts and feelings become part of the recipes she prepares. Not only do these recipes call for tangible ingredients, like garlic or onion, but they also utilize intangible ingredients from Tita, like her thoughts and feelings. Based on the events that take place in the novel, these intangible ingredients include feelings of love, passion, sorrow, and hate. After the house cook, Nacha, passed away, Tita filled her position. Along with it being her duty in the house, Tita’s feelings are another driving force that depict what she makes.
Sorrow — Tita’s tears flood the wedding batter while she mourns over her sister’s impending marriage to Pedro; her sadness is baked into the cake and in turn affects those that eat it. Mama Elena orders Tita to prepare the wedding cake for Pedro and Rosaura and also informs Tita that she must be present at the wedding fully composed. Tita is distraught due to the fact that she must support the marriage between her one true love and her older sister. With each of the one hundred and seventy eggs that Tita adds to the wedding batter, Tita’s tears flow more heavily: “…the batter wouldn’t thicken because Tita kept crying.” At the wedding, each guest is filled with the sadness Tita feels at the loss of her love; with each bite of wedding cake, the guests go from crying to wailing. The wailing turns into sickness and the guests rush over to the ranch’s river to collectively vomit. This exaggerated reaction to the tearful wedding cake illuminates the sorrow Tita feels due to the loss of Pedro to her older sister.
Love — Tita’s love for Pedro steams off her Quail in Rose Petal Sauce recipe. Pedro walks past his pregnant wife, Rosaura, with a bouquet of roses and instead gifts them to Tita. Pedro makes an excuse for the flowers, saying they are a celebration of Tita’s first year as a ranch cook. Because of Pedro’s hidden yet reassuring gesture of love towards Tita, her heart begins beating for Pedro once again: “Tita clasped the roses to her chest so tightly that when she got to the kitchen, the roses, which had been mostly pink, had turned quite red from the blood that was flowing from Tita’s hands and breasts.” Although Mama Elena orders Tita to throw them away, Tita begins planning an extravagant meal using the rose petals; she decides to make Quail in Rose Petal Sauce. That night, the dinner made from “Tita’s blood and the roses from Pedro proved quite an explosive combination” based on everyone’s reaction to the meal. Once again, the dinner guests tasted the love Tita used to cook with. Tita’s Quail in Rose Petal sauce created a heated aura in the room. Gertrudis became hot and filled with sexual desire for Pedro: “It was as if a strange alchemical process has dissolved her entire being in the rose petal sauce…” With Gertrudis daydreaming over Pedro, the stare shared between Tita and Pedro was unbroken: “He let Tita penetrate to the farthest corners of his being, and all the while they couldn’t take their eyes off each other.” The love and passion Tita cooked with flowed in the blood of Tita, Pedro, and Gertrudis at dinner. Tita’s meal is felt so heavily within Gertrudis that the smell of roses permeates her skin from within, and she begins emanating heat. Gertrudis gave off so much heat that she set fire to part of the ranch and ran off naked with a Mexican Revolutionary soldier on a horse. These unusual, supernatural reactions were caused by Tita’s dinner, the love-filled quail Tita prepared from the passion she felt for Pedro.
Negativity — With the intent of competing with Tita in the kitchen, Rosaura proves that cooking without her heart and with such negative feelings results in bad-tasting food. Rosaura attempts to cook in order to impress her husband and to prove that Tita is not the only woman in the house that can cook. Tita offers Rosaura help with the meal, which Rosaura annoyingly refused. Rosaura cooks out of annoyance for her younger sister, who always impressed others — including Pedro — with her food. Cooking out of familial competition and resentment proved unsuccessful due to the distasteful meal Rosaura prepared: “The rice was obviously scorched, the meat dried out, the dessert burnt.” The family tasted Rosaura’s negativity in the poor-tasting food. Compared to Tita’s meals that cause supernatural reactions based on her strong emotion, Rosaura’s meal that was poorly-prepared and without much heart simply resulted in everyone getting sick later that day.
Tita endures a whirlwind of events throughout the novel. As the house cook, Tita uses cooking as a medium for expressing her feelings. She uses food to communicate who she is based what she experiences, such as being denied the love of her life. This assertion of her identity via the food she prepares for her family catalyzes unusual reactions throughout the novel. Her food ultimately absorbs her feelings and instills those same feelings in those that eat her food. The unusual reactions that take place after eating Tita’s food act as exaggerations that work to illuminate Tita’s feelings.