The taste of cat, donkey, dog, and rat meat

An interesting item about the flavor of pet, vermin, and work animal meat, courtesy of Futility Closet.
henry-l.jpg During the German siege of Paris in 1870, residents had to eat whatever animals were at hand. Daily News correspondent Henry Labouchère recorded his opinions:

• Horse: "eaten in the place of beef ... a little sweeter ... but in other respects much like it"
• Cat: "something between rabbit and squirrel, with a flavor all its own"
• Donkey: "delicious -- in color like mutton, firm and savory"
• Kittens: "either smothered in onions or in a ragout they are excellent"
• Rat: "excellent -- something between frog and rabbit"
• Spaniel: "something like lamb, but I felt like a cannibal"

"This siege will destroy many illusions," he wrote, "and amongst them the prejudice which has prevented many animals being used as food. I can most solemnly assert that I never wish to taste a better dinner than a joint of a donkey or a ragout of cat -- experto crede."

An Open Mind


  1. I’d like to smother her kitten in onions! *rimshot*

    Seriously, this is so horrifically funny it’s beyond tragi-comic.

  2. This is at least the third time I’ve heard someone rave about eating donkey. I’m starting to wonder if there is something to it.

  3. I found horse meat to be delicious. I had it in a restuarant in Ghent years ago.

    It’s a lot like venison, only nobler and more docile.

  4. “Lobscouse and Spotted Dog”, the excellent cookbook drawn from Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels, has a recipe for rats in onion sauce, said to be delicious by the authors, Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman – rats (called millers because of the flour they got into) were prized, according to O’Brian, on long voyages when other rations grew scarce.

    Labouchere was a wonderful wit. While on his deathbed, an attendant accidentally knocked over a spirit lamp. Labouchere roused briefly and murmured “Flames? Not yet, I think…” laughed, and then died.

    1. I might have once taped the Miller Stew recipe to an annoying roommate’s pet rat habitat, but if pressed I will deny everything.

  5. I’ve had horseburgers many times (lived in Montreal, near a restaurant that served a variety of animals in hamburger form), and it was delicious. Very lean and flavourful. I’m not sure if it’s still the case, but horse used to be quite commonly served in France. And, of course, dog is commonly eaten in numerous countries.

  6. Horse is common meat in France. It’s usually eaten as ground meat (either raw, as tartare, or cooked). Donkey summer sausage from Corsica (saucisson d’âne) is easily found on markets and it’s delicious.

    In Japan, I once ate horse sashimi in an izakaya. Very fine.

  7. Donkey doesn’t sound bad, but Labouchère’s guilt over eating a dog is something I’m sure I’d also feel. It would likely be very difficult to eat any kind of sociable and affectionate creature.

    1. Perhaps you mean YOU’D have a hard time eating an animal which YOU found to be sociable and affectionate.

      Other cultures are just as horrified at the notion of eating pork or beef as many Westerners are by the thought of eating cats or dogs.

      It all comes down to the culture in which one was raised, no?

    2. That pretty much includes all animals. Even a horse is sociable and affectionate. Cows can be, and pigs are for sure.
      Perhaps you should re-consider your dietary choices based on your own comment.

  8. Life under siege…strange that an enforced closing of gates can in turn force an opening of minds: as to what is suitable to eat, anyway.
    Such would probably also lead to the opening of purses and wallets, as the price of wholesome food is bid up by the wealthy.

    That reminds me – when’s that new “Soylent Green” blu-ray due to be released?

  9. [opens the large tome o’ rules]
    (and i quote) “All meat, and meat-like substances, must be compared to chicken (meat); meat references to rabbit are [thus] assumed as equivalent to chicken. viz. ibid.”
    [closes book (“paf”)]

  10. Some parts of Germany and Austria still refer to cats as “Dachhase” (lit. “roof hares”), apparently a hangover from various sieges in the middle ages when moggies ended up being the last available source of fresh meat. Not only is the taste of cat similar to rabbit/hares, but once you’ve taken off the head, tail and feet the skinned animals look almost indistinguishable.

    1. The song “Creuza de Ma”, by Italian singer-songwriter Fabrizio de Andre, includes a menu for a meal that culminates with “Paciûgu in aegruduse de lévre de cuppi” (“pasticcio of ’tile hare’ in sweet-and-sour sauce”).

      It may be a little bit of black humor on De Andre’s part, but he doesn’t make it sound like an austerity menu, so perhaps cat was a regular feature on Genovese tables.

    2. I’d heard that Parisian restaurants served a dish during the Siege that translated to “saddle of roof rabbit.” Now I know the source…

    3. once you’ve taken off the head, tail and feet the skinned animals look almost indistinguishable

      Which is where the idiom “selling cats for rabbits” comes from (via Spanish). The meaning is roughly “passing off a cheap imitation as the real thing”.

      Also, not only is Finland one of the places where horse meat is readily available, it’s sold processed and packaged with the other cold cuts. And of course reindeer is also commonly eaten, and you can even get ready-to-eat reindeer stew TV dinners from the freezer section. I can’t comment on the taste of either of them though: I’m a vegetarian.

  11. I’m going to go ahead and make the obligatory Hannibal Lecter reference. (Open minds need to know.)

  12. Eating a dog makes him feel like a cannibal, but kittens are fine, “excellent” even.

    Dude.. just… don’t eat babies.

  13. Rat tasted good then because they’d eat flour and tallow. Now they eat damn near anything, and so if they’re not grassfed farmraised organic rat, it’s probably a mistake to eat one, both for your health and for taste. Same for dogs – they eat damn near anything. Basically don’t eat the wildlife in cities.

    Guinea Pigs – raised and eaten in Peru and Chile for X thousands of years – delicious. Horse is quite good.

    1. I’ve heard the same about guinea pigs – isn’t it called “cuy”?

      I’d love to try some of these. Honestly, my only squick is eating something that’s not fully grown. It doesn’t seem fair. (Before anybody mentions it, most chicken eggs aren’t fertilized.)

  14. I found unicorn to be just as delicious as horse, maybe moreso.

    But I was picking glitter out of my teeth for a week afterward…

  15. Gotta love the French. Any other people, facing starvation, would eat the onions and then eat the kittens. Parisians are hoarding up the onions to complement the tangy sweetness of a nice slow-roasted kitten.

  16. I live near a farm, trust me cows and lambs are sociable animals and like human attention. when the calves are separated from their mothers the mooing is very sad, same when the lambs are taken away from their mothers. I don’t eat red meat any more, just chicken and fish. chickens only take 40 odd days to grow and are a bit stupid so I don’t feel guilty about them.

    1. That’s why I can’t bear the thought of eating veal, lamb or other young animals. Though I do wonder why it’s socially acceptable to butcher calves and lambs, yet there are strict laws in place prohibiting hunters from taking fawns, or to stop fishermen from taking juvenile bass.

      Either way, I also try to avoid red meat these days.

      In response to those comments to me earlier:
      @14- I wrote the comment, so yes, that’s what I meant. Thanks for reading along. What cultures find daschund or canary preferable to beef or chicken? I’ve never heard of a beagle rancher.

      @32- How abrasive of you. You know what’s good for that? Fish. Chicken is good for the brain, too. Look into that next time you’re back on earth.

      1. The limits on shooting fawns or keeping small fish have to do with assuring acceptable population levels. Too many young’uns taken = fewer mature specimens left for hunters/fishermen in succeeding years.

  17. correct me if i’m wrong- but doesn’t labouchere translate as “the butcher”? how fitting for him to be cutting up every animal he can get his hands on…

  18. He was an Englishman, not French. Instantly explaining why he couldn’t eat the dog without getting soppy, and why he thought everything else was so delicious.

  19. I have found horse to be quite tasty, and I imagine eating rat from flour barrel is much to be preferred than rat from offal dump. . .

    Still, as I tell my friends, good thing food is plentiful. . .otherwise, well. . .a guy’s gotta survive.

    And those are my friends: you dear reader, in any significant apocalyptic event are indeed fair game.

    Bon Appetit! ; )

  20. I missed the link to the famous Christmas menu of 1870, subtitled “99th Day of Siege.” Of course, this menu was offered by an elegant restaurant and it was a Christmas menu (hence the elephant. There were only two in Paris.). Apparently, preparations of dogs, cats, rats and horses comprised the majority of dishes at the more plebian establishments.

    Xmas Menu 1870, 99th Day of Siege:

    which offered:

    Stuffed Head of Donkey
    Elephant Consommé
    Roasted Camel à la Anglaise (straight-up Beefeater-style spitted and turned)
    Kangaroo Stew
    Bear Ribs
    Leg of Wolf
    Cats Crowned (or flanked) with Rat
    and the Antelope Terrine

    Honestly, the last sounds delicious, though I wonder what they used for the copious fat that would be required to make it a palatable terrine. The veg dishes sounded mighty fine, including a watercress salad and Cèpes à la Bordelaise. Mmmm, cèpes.

    The consommé of elephant must have come from one of Paris’ only two (beloved… to a point) elephants: Castor and Pollux. Alas, they gave their lives for the citoyens.

  21. The difference between pet animal, work animal, and food/fur/lab/”prey” animal is mostly cultural. It isn’t uncommon for one species to serve muiltiple roles, though unless you’re a farmer you may not see that happen with a single individual.

    Some folks like to pretend that sharper lines exist, and get very confused when their preconceptions eventually conflict with reality. I can sympathize with them, but they’re still wrong, whether they’re disgusted by dog meat or by a pet rat or by the very concept of wearing fur.

    If folks want to get up in arms about something related to animals, preventing needless abuse is certainly honorable and desirable. But be careful about definitions — captivity is not necessarily cruelty, and sometimes legitimate use can be unpleasant (though even then should be kept as humane as possible within those needs).

    Song cue: “Biotech Fantasy”, by Heather Rose Jones

  22. We were casually discussing what dog might taste like, when a colleague who had grown up in China joined our group.

    “You must know what dog tastes like!” We jovially broached.

    She smiled cheekily then replied, “It tastes like cat.”

  23. Here in Italy horse meat is very common and can be found in every butcher shop. Donkey meat is a little less common, but if you happen to be in Venice, well that’s the right region for tasting the “spezzatino di musso” (that’s donkey stew). I swear it’s delicious.

  24. Dog is definitely very similar to lamb, although more… meaty? Super soft consistency. I wasn’t a huge fan.

  25. Is this really that odd? Here in Norway you’d struggle to find a butcher’s shop (I know of two shops in Trondheim, the country’s 3rd largest city, that sell unpackaged fresh meat), but I still know of places where you can get horse and whale meat (and probably other “odd” meats as well). Horse is also very commonly used (on a large scale) in production of salami and similar sausages as a supplement to more “prestigious” meats.

    What any culture eats or doesn’t eat seems to be based simply on availability of food, and as food gets more available, prejudice (aka. “sensibilities”/culture/whatever). Why else would it be that many non-western cultures (with less developed agriculture or higher population densities) eat insects, dogs, cats, and whatever else they can get their hands on? And why on earth is eating a rat (which actually is a very tidy and clean animal) worse than eating a pig or cow that’s been kept in a tiny pen with 20 others and standing in it’s own urine and shit for most of its life? In fact, rats and pigs have many of their positives in common; they’re cleanly by nature, pretty much omnivorous, can live in more or less any conditions, and breed rapidly. The only major difference is that rat’s aren’t really possible to domesticate.

    I understand that slaughtering and eating a pet cat or dog that you’ve grown fond of over the years would be disturbing, but how is that more disturbing than growing up on a farm and seeing the same happen to a “pet” lamb or calf (or cow or sheep for that matter)?

    I honestly believe that this is a decadent and stupid prejudice that we need to lose before the global food crisis really starts to rear its gargantuan ugly head. A hundred years ago most people even in Europe couldn’t afford meat on a regular basis (if at all); today we eat it every single day. Yes, production has exploded and agriculture is much more efficient than it was, but our resources are still the same, and we’re overtaxing them every single day.

  26. Horse meat is commonly available in belgium and is delicious. I’ve also eaten donkey, pigeon and “prairy oyster” which are actually bull’s bollocks. I wasn’t a big fan of that last one.

  27. A passage from my favorite cookery tome:
    “…Legend has it that in the cook-shops the cat is often used in the making of rabbit fricassées. Examination of the bones would easily enable one, in case of doubt, to distinguish between the two animals.”
    (accompanied by an illustration of the bone structure of the limbs of each)
    Larousse Gastronomique

  28. Here is a recipe for parakeet pie retrieved from:

    The recipe looks pretty good except for the use of parakeets – the parakeets here are called conures in the United States. Any small bird such as quail (or canary) would work.


    Recipe By :
    Serving Size : 12 Preparation Time :0:00
    Categories : Australian Poultry

    Amount Measure Ingredient — Preparation Method
    ——– ———— ——————————–
    12 Parakeets *
    6 Thin slices of lean beef, 4
    4 Rashers of bacon, 3
    3 Hard-boiled eggs
    1/2 ts Finely chopped parsley
    1/4 ts Dried parsley
    Finely grated lemon peel
    Salt & pepper
    Puff paste

    * Parakeets are a small, long-tailed tropical parrot.

    Method: Prepare the birds, and truss them like a quail
    or any other small bird. Line a pie-dish with the
    beef, over it place 6 of the paraquets, intersperse
    slices of egg, parsley and lemon-rind, dredge lightly
    with flour, and season with salt and pepper. Cover
    with the bacon cut into strips, lay the rest of the
    birds on the top, intersperse slices of egg, season
    with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with parsley and
    lemon-rind as before; three-quarter fill the dish with
    cold water, cover with puff-paste, and bake in a quick

    Time: About 2-1/2 hours. SUFFICIENT for about 12

    From Mrs. Beeton’s All About Cookery, Ward, Lock &
    Co., Limited, date unknown.

  29. Just for the record, reindeer is quite good. It’s fairly dark, wild-tasting meat, and what I’ve had has been quite tender. Recommended if you chance across it.

  30. I have to agree with Anthony Bourdain when it comes to desperate times resulting in delicious foods. I know that horse is quite tasty, especially in chili. I’m now very curious about Donkey.

    I doubt it will beat offal in my eyes anyways.

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