Monday, October 29, 2007
One thing worth reacting to in Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate is its use of food to tell the story of Tita. Moving along the narration of Tita’s search for self-fulfillment are monthly installments of recipes that include rolls and cakes and other exquisite dishes. Jorge Amado’s Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon had done this food tripping before Esquivel, and currently, there is a number of productions taking up the theme of food, from the Korean phenomenon Jewel in the Palace to the local soap opera Ysabella to Hollywood’s Ratatouille and No Reservations. It seems to me that more than the need for human survival, preparing dish became a significant human experience.
While reading Tita’s struggle to fight for her love for Pedro and to free herself from a rigid family tradition imposed by her conservative mother, I got to feel my mouth salivating over the dishes Tita cooks. They seem exotic, so it is no surprise that in the manner of finishing the book, I am stuffing good food into my mouth. Why not, when I could suffer from hunger just by imagining the rose sauce that drove Gertrudes to some intolerable pangs of lust? In fact, I was itching to request people to follow the recipes and find for ourselves whether we could literally bring the house down with passion-inducing dish.
Then it hit me: the recipes are being handed down from one generation to another, held within the dela Garza family. Tita hands down the recipes to her niece Esperanza, who passes them to her very daughter who narrates at the beginning of the book. Therefore, the recipes being received from generation to generation tell stories that revive old memories. These memories are made alive through the words, ingredients and dishes that are created. With the transfer of the recipes, the person passing it likewise teaches the younger one more than just following directions: the person tells the recipe’s story. The young one learns the patience and knowledge of the various qualities of the ingredients that make up a dish. With this development of a special relationship with food by the younger generation, the memories that come along with each prepared dish remain safe from outsiders like us no matter how exactly we follow the similar procedure. After all, we are not aware of the hidden memories and stories that that dish tells within Tita’s family tradition. This makes the theme of food all the more meaningful as a means of telling the tale of Tita.
In the novel, I gathered that Tita’s cooking has an enormous effect on the other characters in the novel. Just a teardrop caused by her heartbreak falling into the wedding cake makes the eaters sick. This seems to tell how sad she really feels over the marriage of her beloved to her own sister. Also, the bitter taste of Mama Elena toward Tita’s prepared dishes communicates the kind of acrid relationship between the mother and daughter. Finally, the desire aroused in Pedro as a response to the food Tita cooks attests that the dish is special because done out of love. All these show that in the novel, food is more than the stuff necessary for filling the stomach or sufficing the hunger. The dishes created by Tita sustain more than the physical body by embodying the symbolic representation of living. They communicate stories, feelings and life.