A Grand Meal During the Siege of Paris

In 1870, following an argument over Luxembourg [it’s tempting to be rude about Luxembourg again, but I won’t since they can cause wars and humiliating defeats] and the Spanish throne, the Prussians and the Germans declared war on France.

Germany wasn’t a unified country until 1871, just before the fall of Paris.

It was all rather embarrassing for France and they were defeated, distressingly easily, in a number of battles including the final humiliation at Sedan where Napoleon III and his army were captured.  Zola described the defeats and the chaos in his book La Débâcle, the penultimate of his mighty series of Rougon-Macquart novels.  The Prussians encircled Paris for four months from September 1870 until January 1871 when Paris fell and the Germans were granted a ceremonial entrance to the city as part of the surrender before returning home with Alsace and Lorraine tucked safely under their arms.

Things, as you might expect, were pretty grim under the siege and food was somewhat limited.  The animals in the zoo were slaughtered and it was possible to buy elephant, kangaroo, yak and buffalo meat on the Boulevard Haussmann.  Here’s a menu from a Christmas dinner from 1870 featuring camel, elephant, bear and wolf as well as cat, rat and antelope.  I like how camel is roasted in the English style.  We’re famed for roasting camel.

Christmas Menu Siege de Paris 1870


Once that had run out people were reduced to eating other animals as this menu, described by William Serman, shows:

Consommé of horse with millet

Dog liver brochettes au maître d’hôtel

Minced back of cat with mayonnaise

Filleted shoulder of dog with peas

Rat salami à la Robert

Dog gigot with baby rats

Begonia in juice

Plum pudding in juice with horse marrow

Dessert and wine


A tasty selection and, perhaps fortunately, I don’t have the recipes.  Although it’s pretty hard to find the ingredients even if I did.

Of course the people of Paris were starving and these things, as revolting as they may seem, were much in demand. As Donny Gluckstein points out they were priced way beyond the reach of the normal persons’ purse.  So despite the misery of the situation, the rich were still flaunting their wealth and ability to consume.  Some might call it hoarding. So it goes…

Following the French capitulation and the all to apparent sense of betrayal the Paris Commune sprang up and, for a short but thrilling time, Paris was run by the people for the people until the French government and its forces crushed the rebels in an astonishingly violent and brutal battle which saw over 30,000 people killed in a week.  A government declaring war on its own people?  So it goes…


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