Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

The Honest Truth: Parisians tried elephant soup, but weren’t sure how to cook a hippo

© Corbis via Getty ImagesDiners aboard the Hindenburg, so-called Titanic of the Skies, in 1936
Diners aboard the Hindenburg, so-called Titanic of the Skies, in 1936

Writer Alex Johnson and actor pal Vincent Franklin – Mike Travis in TV’s Bodyguard – love lists and food.

They marry their two obsessions in their first joint book.

Here, Alex tells Sally McDonald the Honest Truth about the city that ate its zoo, and the Titanic’s menu quirks

What inspired you to write this book?

A couple of years ago I wrote A Book Of Book Lists, which featured all kinds of lists – such as what books IKEA uses as display props and what was on Bin Laden’s bookshelf. After Vince, an old friend and neighbour, read it, he suggested we do something similar about interesting menus and the stories behind the dishes.

Also, we both really like food – we play snooker together every Wednesday night and the discussions in the pub afterwards often end up with debates about how to pronounce “chorizo” or the best recipe for mincemeat.

How much research was involved?

Thank goodness for the internet. This book would have taken a decade of around-the-world travel to research without it. Apart from a couple of trips to the British Library, the research rarely took us further than the kitchen, but it did take a year to gather all the stuff together.

What was your most surprising discovery?

For Vince it was the Shah of Iran’s celebration of 2,500 years of the Persian Empire, where the feast cost around £200,000 per person. I’d never realised that when the Prussians were besieging Paris in 1870, the people in the city were so hungry they ate the zoo’s animals. We included a menu from a restaurant for Christmas Day that year which featured unusual dishes such as elephant soup. They didn’t eat everything though, partly because nobody really knew how to cook a hippo.

What did you discover about the Hindenburg’s menu?

We were interested in food served on ships, planes and space rockets. The Hindenburg was both luxurious and constrained by weight. We thought that would be the main story – after all, they had an aluminium piano made just to reduce the payload by a few pounds.

But once we got into it, there was another story in there too.

In this case, it was all about what a powerful propaganda tool the Hindenburg was for the Nazis and how there’s evidence of that in the food they served to the millionaires on board.

What can you tell us about the meals on board the Titanic?

If you want a snapshot of the class structure of Edwardian Britain, look no further than the menus from the Titanic. You don’t even need to look at the food, the menus tell you everything – black and white or colour, lunch or dinner in the middle of the day, instructions on how to complain for those who may not know how to behave in a restaurant.

What insights can you offer on Charles Dickens’ 1868 dinner at Delmonico’s in New York?

Dickens had been to America 25 years before and hated the food, which he described as “indigestible matter”.

He was back again in 1868 but this time loved the food he was served at a special dinner at the famous Delmonico’s restaurant – largely because of its new chef, who was instrumental in popularising avocados in the city.

Only male journalists were invited.

Female journalists found this unacceptable and their response sparked a social revolution in eating habits and in the women’s rights movement.

Until then, women could only eat at restaurants in the US if they were accompanied by a man.

What would you like readers to take from the book?

That food is not just fuel. One of the most interesting segments of the early series of The Great British Bake Off was when Mel and Sue looked into the history of the dishes the contestants were making. We hope this book provides some intriguing insights into famous events, plus amazing facts to entertain your friends.

Menus That Made History: Over 2,000 Years Of Menus From Ancient Egyptian Food For The Afterlife To Elvis Presley’s Wedding Breakfast is out now in hard back, Kyle Books, £14.99