Like Water For Chocolate is a love story that takes place in Mexico in the era of the Mexican Revolution. The main characters are Tita de la Garza, the protagonist, and Pedro, her love interest. Pedro and his father come to ask for Tita’s hand in marriage. Tita's mother, Mama Elena, refuses. The de la Garza family tradition demands the youngest daughter must remain unmarried and take care of her mother until death. However, Mama Elena offers the hand of another daughter, Rosaura, instead and Pedro accepts in order to be closer to Tita.
Mama Elena keeps a close watch on Tita and Pedro. When Tita finds an excuse to not attend Rosaura's engagement party, Mama Elena forces Tita to prepare the wedding banquet as punishment. Tita's desire for Pedro is put into her cooking, and as a result, the wedding guests are overcome by "intoxication" and a longing for their true love. The wedding ends with all the guests crying and vomiting by the river. Even Mama Elena unlocks a box and holds a photograph of a man who is thought to be her true love.
One year passes and Pedro gives a bouquet of roses to Tita "in honor of being head chef". Mama Elena commands Tita to throw the roses out, but Tita decides to cook Quail with the rose petals instead. Even though Pedro, Tita, Mama Elena and Gertrudis (Tita's other sister) feel incredible passion throughout the meal, Rosaura finds it inedible. After dinner Gertrudis runs to cool her body with a shower and Gertrudis' body heat literally sets fire to the outdoor shower building. She leaves the ranch naked with a revolutionary soldier.
One night, Pedro goes to Tita. When Tita awakens to use the rest room, Pedro waits in the shadows nearby for her return. He kisses her passionately. Suddenly, Mama Elena wakes up looking and calling for Tita. Mama Elena asks Tita where she was, does not believe Tita's answer, and the next day Elena sends Rosaura, Pedro and their baby boy to Texas. Soon, they receive news that the baby died on the way to Texas. In an act of rebellion, Tita blames her mother; Mama Elena responds by smacking Tita across the face with a wooden spoon, which breaks her nose. Tita secludes herself in a dovecote after the incident. Mama Elena states there is no place for "lunatics" on the farm, and wants her to be institutionalized. However, Dr. John Brown (who had been summoned for the birth of Rosaura's now deceased child) decides to take care of Tita at his home instead. While caring for Tita, Dr. Brown tells Tita a story from his Native American grandmother. The story says that all humans are born with enough matches to burn like a candle. But to set off this fire, every person must find their own trigger. They must also be careful to not set off all their internal matches at once, or risk immolation. Tita eventually enters into a relationship with Dr. Brown, even planning to marry him at one point, but she cannot shake her feelings for Pedro.
Mama Elena is seriously wounded when rebels attack the ranch. Tita rushes to her mother's side. Soon after, Mama Elena dies.
Rosaura and Pedro return for the funeral, which causes sexual tension between Tita and Pedro. Rosaura soon gives birth to a second child, a girl, and is told that due to complications she will never be able to have another child. Rosaura declares that her daughter Esperanza will never marry because she will have to take care of her mother.
Dr. Brown is called away and after dinner one night, Pedro once again confronts Tita. He takes her to a bed and makes love to her. Though Rosaura and Chencha see "phosphorescent plumes" and a strange glow coming from the room, they refuse to go near, fearing that the commotion is the ghost of Mama Elena. After that night, Tita fears that she is pregnant.
Rosaura feels that Tita isn't a threat to her marriage and asks for her help to win back Pedro's affection. Rosaura asks if Tita would place her on a special diet so that she could lose weight and cure bad breath. Rosaura leaves the kitchen and Mama Elena's ghost enters. She scolds Tita for her relationship with Pedro and curses the baby growing in Tita's womb.
That night, Gertrudis returns to the ranch alongside the man who swept her away on his horse. Now a general in the revolutionary army, Gertrudis is a veteran of many battles, and the ranch spends the rest of the night dancing and singing. Mama Elena's ghost returns and asks Tita to leave the ranch. Tita stands up to her mother and declares her autonomy. As a result, the ghost shrinks into a tiny light. The fiery light of Mama Elena's ghost falls on Pedro who is outside near a bonfire with the rest of the group, setting him on fire. Gertrudis husband and Tita rescues him. Tita cares for him and helps him in recovering.
The next morning as she heads out Gertrudis tells Tita that she needs to accept her relationship with Pedro and in order to avoid an unwanted pregnancy by bathing in water with vinegar.
While Tita nurses Pedro back to health, Dr. Brown returns. After his return, Tita tells Dr. Brown that she can not marry him because she gave her virginity to another. Dr. Brown vows that it does not matter to him because he loves her and still wants to marry her, but will respect her wishes.
Twenty years pass. The audience learns each person's fate through conversations at the wedding of Rosaura's daughter Esperanza to the son of Dr. Brown. Rosaura died of "severe digestive problems" three days after an argument between Rosaura and Tita about Esperanza's future. At the wedding reception, Pedro confesses to Tita that he still loves her, wants to marry her and has dreamed of their wedding day.
The movie ends with Tita and Pedro making love in a candle-lit barn. As Dr. Brown had warned years before, Tita and Pedro's passions ignite too quickly, and Pedro dies just as he has a sensuous orgasm. Tita swallows matches to self-immolate, lighting the entire ranch on fire in the process. Esperanza returns to ranch and finds only Tita’s cookbook, which contained her recipes and told of her and Pedro’s love story.
In the final scene, Esperanza's daughter, also named Tita, ends by saying, "My Mother, how I miss her cooking. The smell of her kitchen. Her talking while she prepared the meals. Her Christmas rolls. Mine never come out like hers. For some reason I can't make myself stop crying when I make them. It must be that I am as sensitive to onions as Tita, my great aunt. She'll continue to live as long as someone continues to cook her recipes."