Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Like Water for Chocolate

(Como agua para chocolate, Mexico, 1992)

I’ve wondered about the title of this film since I saw it the first time, when it was new. That was before the easy research of the IMDb. Here is Roger Ebert’s explanation:

“In Mexico, so I have learned, hot chocolate is made with water, not milk. The water is brought to a boil and then the chocolate is spooned into it. A person in a state of sexual excitement is said to be “like water for chocolate.”

That makes perfect sense, because I have seldom seen a film so deeply about passion … and food. The two are inextricably mixed up in this tale of three sisters living with their nightmare mother in a Mexican border town, mostly in 1910. The youngest has been told she must never marry Pedro, the young man she loves, because it is a family tradition that she must care for her mother until she dies. (Oops! Mom, you should never have added those last three words. If it had been me, the hideous bitch would have died of terminal stomach cramps brought on by roach poison in her guacamole shortly after uttering them. Problem solved.)

I don’t want to get much further into the plot than that. It’s more fun to watch it unfold on its own. The film is based on a best-selling (in Mexico; don’t know how it did here) novel by Laura Esquivel, the wife of the director, Alfonso Arau. She also wrote the screenplay. The term for it is magical realism, which means that magic really does work, and is pretty much taken for granted. Not magic in the sense of casting spells, witchcraft, etc., but things that clearly can’t happen, but do. It centers on the youngest daughter, Tita, and her cooking, which can produce effects such as mass vomiting when she’s angry, or mass weeping when she is sad. When she’s turned on, look out! After eating a meal of quail in a sauce made from the rose petals brought to her by her lover, Pedro, Tita’s sister Gertrudis becomes so hot that steam rises off her body, and the outhouse where she is trying to cool off literally catches fire. She runs down the road, naked, and is swooped away by a handsome Villista soldier! If this sort of scene doesn’t appeal to your romantic side, then you won’t appreciate this film. And I feel very, very sorry for you.


* 2 cups water, plus 1 cup
* 2 tablespoons butter
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1/2 teaspoon aniseed
* 12 red or pink roses with open blooms, petals removed
* 1 peeled red cactus fruit or 2 red plums, skinned
* 12 fresh chestnuts
* 2 tablespoons honey
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 4 boneless fresh quail
* Olive oil
Heat the water to boiling.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in large skillet, cook the garlic and aniseed for 5 minutes, and set aside.
Put the rose petals and cactus fruit in a blender and puree until smooth and set aside.
Cut an “x” over the flat ends of the chestnuts with a knife. Toast the chestnuts in a hot cast iron skillet for 5 minutes. When the shells open, add the chestnuts to the boiling water and cook for 15 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and allow them to cool. Peel the chestnuts, add them to the rose petal mixture, and puree while adding the remaining cup of water, slowly.
Reheat the skillet with garlic butter mixture and add the rose petals puree. Simmer for 10 minutes then whisk in the honey, salt, and pepper.
Push the sauce through a sieve, into a clean pan, pressing on the solids to extract the juice and some chestnut pulp. Keep the sauce warm.
Preheat a grill or grill pan.
Drizzle the quails with olive oil and season with salt. Grill the quails until they are medium rare, about 5 minutes per side. Serve with the Rose Petal Sauce.