Written by Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate tells the tale of the youngest daughter of a family living in Mexico near the Mexico-US border line. Tita De La Garza lives on a ranch with her mother, Mama Elena and her older sisters Rosaura and Gertrude. When the novel starts, Tita is only fifteen years old and is described as being a beautiful young woman with a knack for cooking. This is because she was born in the kitchen and furthermore, she has been raised by the house cook, Nacho. She is also adept at all household chores since as the youngest daughter of the La Garza family she is destined by tradition to take care of her mother until her demise. There are twelve chapters in the novel, each occurring at a different month of the year although much time may have passed between each section. At the beginning of each chapter, there is a recipe which the main event of that particular chapter revolves around eating. It is seen that Tita’s emotions are so closely connected with the food she makes and that the people who eat it are literally affected by the consumption, often even leading to drastic consequences.
The plot starts with a proposal for Tita from Pedro Muzquiz, a neighbor of the La Garza family, who is in love with Tita, a feeling that is mutual on the receiving end. However, due to family tradition, Mama Elena rejects the proposal as Tita is forbidden to marry until the death of her mother and offers Pedro the hand of her eldest daughter, Rosaura and to live on the family ranch with them. Pedro readily agrees although his real intention is to be closer to Tita. Tita is deeply saddened by the course of events and with a heavy heart begins to prepare the food for Rosaura and Pedro’s marriage. On the wedding day, she cooks a special meal while tears drop from her eyes. The tear-filled food has a special effect on the guests who all become physically sick at the memory of their loved ones. Rosaura and Pedro begin their married life at the ranch.
Another day, Tita creates another meal adding the petals of a rose Pedro had given to her at an earlier time. The petals are a symbol of the fiery love the two still share, forcing a certain effect of lust on Gertrude after she consumes the food. She runs away from the ranch and elopes with a rebel soldier. Meanwhile, the heavily pregnant Rosaura gives birth to her first child, a son she names Roberto, who is delivered by his aunt Tita. Rosaura, who is completely different from Tita in the sense that she is clumsy at chores and does not know how to cook, fails to be able to feed her child as well. Surprisingly, Tita proves effective in this matter and nurses her nephew while Rosaura’s breasts are still dry.
Her motherly relationship with her nephew, Roberto brings her closer to his father as well, an occurrence that does not go unnoticed by Mama Elena who suspects an existent attraction between Tita and Pedro. In order to avoid a scandal, she decides to relocate Rosaura’s family to San Antonio in order to nip the growing love in its bud.
The separation proves to be devastating for both Tita and her nephew, Roberto; Roberto dies only a few weeks after the move to San Antonio, likely due to being removed from the care of his aunt who was the only one who could feed him. After hearing of Roberto’s death, Tita loses all her lucid thoughts and forces Mama Elena to put her in a mental institution for recovery. Here, we are introduced to yet another major character of the book, Dr. John Brown, an American physician who takes a liking to Tita and resolves to restore her to full health. He succeeds and Tita returns to a more normal state although she decides not to return to the ranch and to her mother, Mama Elena. However, as soon as she has made that decision, Tita receives news that the ranch has been attacked and poor Mama Elena has been injured by a revolutionary soldier as they ransacked her home. Tita is reminded of her responsibility towards her mother as the youngest daughter and she returns to take care of her ill mother. Unfortunately, Mama Elena refuses to see the goodness in Tita’s motives and suspects that she has returned to exact revenge on her. Thus, she refuses to eat her cooking fearing that she would be poisoned. After some time, Mama Elena is found dead, having consumed a drastic amount of emetic in order to cure a poisoning she believed herself to be suffering from. Nevertheless, this will not be the last of the tyranny of Mama Elena although Tita is now free to choose to marry now that her mother is dead.
Not long after, Tita officially accepts the proposal of marriage from John Brown. The notion is halfhearted though since Tita is still very much in love with her first paramour, Pedro. Rosaura and Pedro return to the ranch and Rosaura gives birth to her second child, a daughter who has also been fated to never marry until the death of her mother, keeping in line with the family tradition. This is also because due to the complications during Rosaura’s daughter, Esperanza’s birth, she will never be able to give birth again. Both Pedro and Tita are vehemently against this but Rosaura remains stubbornly resilient at vowing to never get Esperanza married.
John Brown asks for Pedro’s blessing for the upcoming marriage and immediately, Pedro is filled with jealousy from watching Tita with another man. Later that night, after John has left for America, Pedro comes to her room and seduces her into making love with him, resulting in her loss of virginity. As soon as she sleeps with Pedro, Tita regrets her decision and fears that she may have to end her engagement with John as she worries she is pregnant with Pedro’s child.
Mama Elena returns from the grave to torment the illicit couple, Tita and Pedro. She curses both Tita and her child causing even more discomfort to Tita who feels that she now has no one to talk to who will understand her. Again, as if to fulfill her wishes, the ranch welcomes yet another forgotten member, Gertrude, who had not kept in contact with her family after her elopement. She is now married to an important man in the army and she, herself, is responsible for fifty soldiers as a general. After hearing about the events that have occurred recently, Gertrude convinces Tita to disclose her pregnancy to Pedro who is overjoyed at the news and secretly courts Tita from her window. Mama Elena again appears and this time, she threatens Tita to leave Pedro and the ranch. Tita refuses to do so and with her newly found spirit exiles the ghost from her room, which miraculously also results in her pregnancy disappearing as well.
Unfortunately, although Tita has exempted herself from torture at the hand of Mama Elena’s ghost, she could not rid the spirit from the entire ranch. In order to exact revenge, Mama Elena finds Pedro and sets his body on fire. Although he does not die, being engulfed in flames diminishes the mental capacity of Pedro and Tita has to take care of him in order to heal him from his mental illness. After some time, John Brown returns from his trip and learns of everything that had happened after his departure. Tita is fearful that he would not want to marry her after her confession of that one night with Pedro but instead, John Brown asks her to make a decision. He still wishes to marry her but whether she wants to go away with him or stay with Pedro is up to her.
Years pass and we have now reached the final chapter of the book. As it had started with one wedding, the novel will end with another, this time between Esperanza and John Brown’s son, Alexander. Rosaura has died, freeing her daughter to marry whomever she wishes to. All those years ago, instead of marrying John, Tita had decided to stay at the ranch though she and Pedro never requited their love due to the existence of Rosaura. Now that Rosaura is dead and Pedro has freed himself of the responsibility of getting his daughter married, he is finally and remorselessly able to express his love to Tita again. He begs Tita to marry him, a dying man, so he can die peacefully as her husband. After their first night together, Pedro indeed passes away and desperate to be with him in the afterlife, Tita eats up a bunch of candles in order to light herself on fire from the inside. The ranch is lit up on fire and all that’s left unscarred is Tita’s cookbook.