Chapter One: Choice Cuts
Goat’s Testicles to Go: Ten
1. Cena Molida (contains roasted mashed cockroaches) [Belize]
2. Fried, roasted, or boiled guinea pig [Ecuador]
3. Rat meat sausages [Philippines]
4. Desiccated petrified deer’s penis [China]
5. Boodog (goat broiled inside a bag made from the carefully cut and tied goatskin: the goat is either barbecued over an open fire or cooked with a blowtorch) [Mongolia]
6. Monkey toes [Indonesia]
7. Larks’ tongues [England (sixteenth century)]
8. Salted horsemeat sandwiches [Netherlands]
9. Durian fruit (has a fragrance identical to that of a rotting corpse) [Southeast Asia]
10. Khachapuri, the traditional cheese pie of the former Soviet republic of Georgia. In 1995 authorities closed down a bakery whose specialty was khachapuri when it emerged that the pies were being baked in the Tbilisi morgue.
Food for Thought: Ten
1. EMPEROR ELAGABALUS Even in an age of culinary surprises, the emperor shocked his guests with the novelty of the dishes on offer at his 12–hour banquets by serving up camel brains, the combs from live chickens, peacock and nightingale tongues, mullets’ livers, flamingos’ and thrushes’ brains, parrots’, pheasants’, and peacocks’ heads, and sows’ udders. He also served his guests exact replicas of the food he was eating, made out of wood, ivory, pottery, or stone. The guests were required to indulge his practical joke and continue eating. He ate as Romans often did, reclining on couches scattered with lilies and violets, feasting between bouts of self-induced vomiting and demanding sex between courses. A couple of dinner guests once complimented him on the flower arrangement in the middle of the imperial table and carelessly conjectured how pleasant it might be to be smothered in the scent of roses. The Emperor obliged: The next time they sat down to eat with him he had them smothered to death under several tons of petals.
2. JOHN MONTAGU, FOURTH EARL OF SANDWICH In 1762, Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, a notorious gambler, gave his name to the world’s best–known convenience food when he placed a slice of beef between two pieces of bread so that he could carry on eating at the gaming tables without the distraction of greasy fingers. It was not, however, for his peerless snack that Montagu became the talk of the taverns. When he wasn’t gambling or helping lose the Revolutionary War, Montagu was caricatured by the press as a notorious philanderer who was said to spend his evenings in a private “garden of lust” featuring hedges pruned to resemble a woman’s private parts.
3. KING GEORGE IV The poet Leigh Hunt was sent to prison for libel when he dared to suggest that the then–Prince of Wales was overweight, but Hunt was only stating the obvious. The new king, who was fond of hosting one–hundred–course feasts, got his reign off to a flying start at his coronation banquet when he served up to his guests 7,442 pounds of beef, 7,133 pounds of veal, 2,474 pounds of mutton, and an unweighed mountain of lamb and poultry. This orgy of conspicuous consumption so offended his subjects that coronation banquets were banned forthwith. By early middle age George had a fifty–inch waist and it took three hours to squeeze him into the royal corset, and a pulley system was required to enable him to mount a horse. Even on his deathbed, his appetite was undiminished. Shortly before expiring from cardiac and respiratory problems at the age of sixty–seven, he ordered two pigeons, three steaks, a bottle of wine, a glass of champagne, two glasses of port, and a glass of brandy.
4. KING LOUIS XVIII The French Bourbon kings were all thought to have suffered from a family overeating disorder. Before he lost his appetite and his head, the ample Louis XVI, known to his courtiers as “the fat pig,” was such a prolific gourmand that his gut was rumored to be infested with a giant tapeworm. Younger brother King Louis XVIII, the largest of all the Bourbons, thought that he could deflect attention from his enormous girth by dressing in diamond–studded clothes. In the last years of his reign he suffered from a variety of illnesses, including gout, and he became completely disabled. He was in such a state of physical decay that one evening in 1823, as his valets were removing the king’s shoes, a gouty toe accidentally came away with his sock.
5. WILLIAM BUCKLAND In 1824, the British vicar and geologist became the first person to identify a dinosaur fossil when he published Notice on the Megalosaurus or Great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield
. Buckland spent a lifetime indulging bizarre gastronomic experiences. He dined on rodents, insects, crocodile, hedgehog, mole, and roast joint of bear and puppy, and he once boasted that he was prepared to eat anything organic, although he confessed that he could not be tempted to try second helpings of stewed mole or bluebottle, a common housefly. Buckland made culinary history when he ate the embalmed heart of King Louis XIV. The organ, stolen from the king’s tomb during the French Revolution, changed hands several times until it found its way into a snuffbox owned by Buckland's friend, Lord Harcourt. Buckland noted later that the heart would probably have tasted better had it been served with gravy made from the blood of a marmoset.
6. JAMES “DIAMOND JIM” BRADY The millionaire railway tycoon tried to eat his way through an estimated $12 million fortune in the early twentieth century, mostly at fashionable New York City hotels. Starting the day with a breakfast of hominy grits, eggs, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, lamb chops, fried potatoes, beefsteak, and a gallon of orange juice, a mid–morning snack of two or three dozen oysters was followed by a lunch of clams, oysters, boiled lobsters, deviled crabs, a joint of beef, and various pies. Afternoon tea comprised a large plate of seafood washed down with several quarts of lemonade. Diamond Jim’s appetite reached a peak at dinner when he consumed two or three dozen oysters, six crabs, several bowls of green turtle soup, six or seven lobsters, two ducks, a double serving of turtle meat, a sirloin steak, vegetables, and orange juice, followed by several plates of cakes and pies and a two–pound box of candy. The owner of his favorite restaurant, Charles Rector’s, an exclusive establishment on Broadway, described Diamond Jim as his “best 25 customers.”
7. GIOACCHINO ROSSINI The life and works of the great Italian composer were greatly influenced by food. “Di Tanti Palpiti,” the most popular opera aria of its time, was familiarly known as the “rice aria” because Rossini dashed it off while waiting for his risotto to cook one day in Venice. Similarly, Rossini is said to have composed the aria “Nacqui all’Affanno e al Pianto” in Cinderella
in less than twenty minutes in a tavern in Rome while drinking with friends. By his mid-thirties he had written thirty–nine operas and was the most acclaimed musician of his day, but then he suddenly went into early “retirement,” and spent the rest of his life throwing dinner parties at his home in Paris. Rossini claimed to have shed tears only three times in his life: the first time over his first opera, the second when he heard Paganini play the violin, and the third when his picnic lunch fell overboard on a boating trip. Rossini is now as well known for the steak named after him, created at the Café Anglais in Paris.
8. CHARLES DARWIN The great scientist displayed an early taste for natural history as a student at Cambridge University when he presided over the Glutton Club, which met weekly in order to seek out and eat “strange flesh.” They dined on hawk and bittern, but after eating a particularly stringy old brown owl, they gave up and elected to get drunk on port instead. When Darwin set sail on the Beagle
he was happy to tuck into armadillos, which “taste and look like duck,” and an unnamed, twenty–pound, chocolate–colored rodent that, he said, was “the best meat I ever tasted." One Christmas, when he realized that the fowl he was eating was an extremely rare “petise,” he jumped up in the middle of the meal and tried to scrape together the remaining wing, head, and neck for experiments.
9. SYLVESTER GRAHAM Inventor of the graham cracker, believed that all health problems could be traced to sex or diet and spent a lifetime crusading against masturbation and poor eating habits. Graham was mainly concerned with the carnal passions provoked by meat–eating, theorizing that the stomach, as the major organ of the body, was also the seat of all illness, and that hunger and sexual desire were a drain on the immune system. Graham’s cure–all regime was very simple: exercise to help prevent “nocturnal emissions,” a proper diet to facilitate regular bowel movements, and “sexual moderation” (once a month for married couples was enough). His Lecture to Young Men
, written in 1834, was the first of a whole genre of medical tracts on the perils of masturbation, which were said to lead to a variety of health problems, including “a body full of disease” and “a mind in ruins.” His theories influenced a generation of diet experts, including John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of the cornflake.
10. PRESIDENT WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT A morbidly obese 320 pounds when he came to office, Taft’s sole dietary concession was to give up bacon because it gave him heartburn. He owned a special bathtub big enough for four average–sized men but got stuck in it on his Inauguration Day and had to be pried out.