Sunday, May 22, 2011

Films for Foodies – Like Water for Chocolate

I'm taking a note from two fellow food bloggers, Ingested Read and Island Vittles, who blog about food fiction, and I am writing a post on a foodie film.

One food film that I revisited recently was Like Water for Chocolate. The film, made in 1992, is an adaptation of the book written in 1989 by Laura Esquivel. The book uses the technique of “magic realism” that is found in many Latin American authors, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The story is about a woman, Tita, who uses cooking to express the feelings she isn’t permitted to communicate. Because of a family tradition of keeping the youngest daughter from marrying so that she can look after her mother, Tita is kept from marrying Pedro, her true love. So that they can be together, Pedro ends up marrying Tita’s oldest sister.

In the film, cooking becomes an act of subversion, rebellion, and expressionism. Tita takes the sorrow, anger, pain, and love that she is feeling and puts those desires into her cooking, resulting in her feelings being communicated to all who eat her dishes. On Pedro and her sister's wedding day, Tita's tear falls into the wedding cake batter, resulting in the wedding guests eating it and immediately feeling sorrow and sick over lost loves. When she hears her oldest sister promise to carrying on the family tradition, denying her daughter a chance at marriage, Tita’s anger and curses manifests itself in a food that causes her sister to be bloated, gassy, and suffer from bad breath.

At one point in the story, Pedro gives Tita some roses, which scratch her chest before she uses them to make a quail dish. When Tita’s family eats dinner that night, they are consumed with Tita’s passion. The narrator reports that in the dish “a strange alchemical phenomenon seems to have occurred. Not only Tita’s blood but her whole being had dissolved into the rose sauce, into the quail, and into every aroma of the meal. That’s how she invaded Pedro’s body voluptuously, ardently fragrant, and utterly sensual.” This passion creates food that becomes a sexual act itself. It also speaks to the title, which comes for an expression that a person in a state of sexual excitement is said to be “like water for chocolate.”

We usually think about food as a way of being an artist, an inventor, or even a magician, but I enjoy that Like Water for Chocolate makes the argument that who we are and what we feel can enter into what we cook--a common idea in songwriting, poetry, and art, but not always so common in cooking. It relates back to the old axiom about food fixed with love. Like Water for Chocolate takes that a step farther to add on anger and rebellion as well as love and passion. At one point, a woman asks Tita for a recipe, and Tita responds that the dish is made with lots of love, which is the reason why the woman will never be able to fix it the same way.

Ultimately, the definition of food in Like Water for Chocolate is food is an extension of our personalities, not just something we put in us. When my boyfriend expressed his surprise about me being willing to share my Loaded Baked Potato Salad on my blog, I joked that although everyone had the recipe, that didn’t mean they would make it like me. That is because, as Like Water for Chocolate claims, the food we make carries all the desires, hopes, and expressions we have inside, and because of that no two dishes will ever taste alike.
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