The Siege of Paris in 1870: A Starving City Eats Their Two Elephants

This post is not strictly about the Franco-Prussian War. You can read more about that and the Siege of Paris here.


Yesterday, I had a slice of Pollux for dinner. Pollux and his brother Castor are two elephants, which have been killed. It was tough, coarse, and oily, and I do not recommend English families to eat elephant as long as they can get beef or mutton.

—  Henry Labouchère

During one 23-day period, over 500 shells a day were fired into the city. People were starving and the only way out of the city was by the occasional release of the newly invented hot air balloon.

Today we are checking out what the starving citizens of Paris ate as food during this long four month siege. All 70,000 of the city’s horses were slaughtered and consumed. Next came cats and dogs. Then, the zoo animals, except for monkeys (who were too human-like) and lions and tigers (who were deemed too dangerous). The local hippopotamus survived, mainly because nobody could afford to buy him at 80,000 Francs. But it appears that not even the two beloved elephants, Castor and Pollux, from the city zoo were spared. They were killed for their meat in the winter of 1870.

Let’s take a look at the menu of a contemporary restaurant during the siege. Menus began to offer exotic dishes such as Cuissot de Loup, Sauce Chevreuil (Haunch of Wolf with a Deer Sauce), Terrine d’Antilope aux truffes (Terrine of Antelope with truffles), Civet de Kangourou (Kangaroo Stew) and Chameau rôti à l’anglaise (Camel roasted à l’anglaise).

A Latin Quarter menu contemporary with the siege reads in part:

* Consommé de cheval au millet. (horse)
* Brochettes de foie de chien à la maître d’hôtel. (dog)
* Emincé de rable de chat. Sauce mayonnaise. (cat)
* Epaules et filets de chien braisés. Sauce aux tomates. (dog)
* Civet de chat aux champignons. (cat)
* Côtelettes de chien aux petits pois. (dog)
* Salamis de rats. Sauce Robert. (rats)
* Gigots de chien flanqués de ratons. Sauce poivrade. (dog, rats)
Begonias au jus. (flowers)
* Plum-pudding au rhum et à la Moelle de Cheval. (horse)
We are going to need some Frank's Red Hot sauce

We are going to need some of Frank’s Red Hot sauce