By Victoria Clark and Melissa Scott
The worst despots of the 20th century have been subjected to culinary scrutiny in new book Dictators’ Dinners: The Bad Taste Guide to Entertaining Tyrants – and it’s fascinating stuff.
Could anyone have guessed that Malawi’s austere Hastings Banda kept crispy fried worms in his trouser pockets or that Uganda’s Idi Amin – strongly suspected of cannibal tendencies – devoured forty oranges a day?
Did Communist Fidel Castro really lecture people on how to grill lobster, and Pol Pot dine on cobra stew?
There are startling insights into the dictators’ table-talk and manners, gastro-intestinal issues, domestic arrangements, addictions, infirmities and food policies.
Here, we bring you some of the highlights.
Adolf Hitler, Germany
Favourite food: Petits Poussins à la Hambourg
Long touted as the world’s most infamous vegetarian, Adolf Hitler was not, in fact, a fanatical purist in this area.
On several occasions in the 1930s he wolfed down fledgling pigeon stuffed with tongue, liver and pistachio nuts and, at least once, reportedly remarked that there was ‘nothing better than a liver dumpling’.
His vegetarianism has been attributed to a tender concern for the humbler species of the animal kingdom. Certainly, the Nazi regime fretted about the rights of lobsters imprisoned in restaurant aquaria, and went so far as to ban foie gras.
It is rumoured that Hitler became a vegatarian in an attempt to cure chronic flatulence ALAMY
Another, more banal, motivation for the Fuhrer’s vegetarianism was reportedly his belief that a meat-free diet would curb his chronic flatulence and constipation, conditions for which he took as many as 28 different drugs on the orders of his quack physician.
Along with large doses of amphetamines he needed to keep him from collapse – explained away as vitamins to anyone who dared ask – Dr Theodor Morrell injected the Nazi leader with substances such as essence of Bulgarian peasant’s faeces, arsenic-based rat poison in the form of Dr Koester’s Anti-Gas Pills and deadly nightshade.
By the final months of the war Hitler’s chronically dysfunctional digestion had reduced him to a nursery diet of mashed potato and clear broth.
It was a very far cry from the elaborately haute cuisine Petits Poussins à la Hambourg, which a British chef named Dione Lucas remembered serving him in a Hamburg hotel in the early 1930s.
“I do not mean to spoil your appetite for stuffed squab, but you might be interested to know” she told readers of her Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook (1964), “that it was a great favourite with Mr Hitler who dined at the hotel often.”
Muammar Gaddafi, Libya
Favourite food: couscous with camel meat
Like Hitler, Gaddafi was rumoured to have suffered from uncontrollable flatulence. The camel milk Gaddafi liked to drink may have played its part in his disturbed digestion. Certainly, on a visit to his tent in 2004, Tony Blair was advised not to accept a glass of camel milk, lest he be similarly afflicted.
Despite banishing Italians from Libya early on in his reign, Gaddafi was a close friend of Silvio Berlusconi and retained a fondness for Italian food, including pastries and pasta dishes, in particular macaroni.
However, he enjoyed simple Libyan food just as much as any Italian dish and his native couscous with camel meat was a particular favourite.
Tony Blair meets Muammar Gaddafi – and avoids the camel milk
Fidel Castro, Cuba
Favourite food: turtle soup
Food and drink has long been a passion for the western world’s leading Communist, with a lot of effort and money wasted on pet projects like setting up enterprises to produce French cheese, foie gras and whisky.
His loyal comrade in the struggle and possibly one-time lover, Celia Sanchez, has revealed that a much younger Castro was particularly fond of a soup made from an endangered and now internationally protected species – the turtle.
Fidel Castro tucks into a hot dog
Benito Mussolini, Italy
Favourite foods: raw garlic and ciambellone for pudding
One of the Italian dictator’s favourite dishes was a simple salad of roughly chopped raw garlic, dressed with oil and lemon, which he maintained was good for his heart.
‘He used to eat a whole bowl of it,’ his wife Rachele once fondly confided to the family cook, ‘I couldn’t go anywhere near him after that. At night I’d leave him to sleep alone in our room and take refuge in one of the children’s rooms!’
Unmoved by his nation’s now world famous cuisine and wines, Benito Mussolini greatly admired both Mahatma Gandhi and George Bernard Shaw for their vegetarianism and had given up alcohol entirely by the time he was forty.
Pasta interested him only in so far as it was made from wheat, the production of which needed boosting in the mid 1920s.
Mussolini did not like meat but could be tempted by a good piece of veal, marinated in various herbs, including marjoram from the garden.
The Mussolini clan all adored a good ciambellone for pudding.
Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Malawi
Favourite food: worms
Banda was partial to mopane worms; he liked them best when “simply dried and then eaten as a snack like crisps.”
The mopane worm is the large caterpillar of the emperor moth and can be eaten dry, crunchy like potato chips or cooked with sauce.
Idi Amin, Uganda
Favourite food: roast goat, cassava and millet bread, and oranges
Asked point-blank once if he was a cannibal, Amin replied, ‘I don’t like human flesh – it’s too salty for me.’
It was said that on taking power he had had all his military rivals rounded up and decapitated before perching on a pile of their heads and taking bites out of their faces. It was said this was perfectly in accordance with a belief held by Amin’s Kakwa tribe that if enemy flesh was eaten, the enemy’s spirit couldn’t return to haunt the killer.
A voracious appetite for oranges – as many as 40 a day, it is said – on account of their claim to be ‘Nature’s Viagra’, earned him the nickname Mr Jaffa.
His favourite food was roast goat, cassava and millet bread. When he was finally exiled to Saudi Arabia, he could often be found at Jeddah airport expectantly waiting for cassava and millet flour sent from his relatives in Uganda.
Pol Pot, Cambodia
Favourite foods: venison, also cobra stew
Pol Pot – with what one British journalist has described as the ‘tapioca pudding-smooth skin and soft plumpness of a fleshy buddha’ – always had plenty to eat and drink, even when his fellow Cambodians were starving.
According to a former cook, interviewed by the same journalist, he enjoyed ‘simple country food’ – venison, wild boar, and even snake, followed by fresh fruit, all washed down with brandy and Chinese wine.
A recipe for cobra stew which his former cook shared with the journalist has a ring of truth about it. First the cobra must be killed and its head severed from its body. It should then be hung from a tree well out of reach of any children, in order that any poison dries out in the sun.
The snake blood should be collected in a cup and served, accompanied by a white wine. Next, the cobra must be chopped into pieces and mashed to a pulp with a handful of peanuts, before being placed in a pot of boiling water with some lemon grass, some bitter vine leaves and some ground ginger, and allowed to simmer for at least an hour.
Small wonder that Pol Pot was plagued by gastric discomfort and found it hard to sleep.
Kim Jong-Il, North Korea
Favourite foods: shark fin soup and oshintang, dog-meat soup
Kim Jong-Il beats even his fellow communist, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, to the title of ‘The World’s Most Foodie Dictator’.
A true gourmet, he owned a library filled with cookbooks, instructed his ambassadors abroad to send him any local specialities to sample and sent his personal chef jetting all over the world in search of delicacies like Iranian caviar, Danish pork, Thai mangoes and Japanese rice cakes flavoured with mugwort, at $120 a pop.
He had a cellar of 10,000 bottles of fine wine and had around £500,000 worth of finest cognac imported for his personal use each year. Hennessy’s biggest customer was reportedly Kim Jong-Il.
Mr Kenji Fujimoto was employed to prepare him the most luxurious sushi in the world: fugu, made from the Japanese puffer fish. In a book revealing all his master’s foodie excesses, Fujimoto wrote that Kim Jong-Il ‘enjoyed raw fish so fresh that he could start eating it when its mouth was still gasping and its tail still thrashing.’
A firm favourite was shark fin soup as well as oshintang, dog-meat soup which would supposedly provide immunity and virility.