Dictators With Strange Eating Habits

Whether you're a dictator or an average Joe, one thing we all have in common is food. At its most basic level, sustenance is a universal human requirement that transcends differences in status, location, or circumstance. After all, from the wealthiest and most powerful people on earth to those struggling to make ends meet, we all require sustenance and nourishment.

Over the course of history, numerous dictators have displayed peculiar and sometimes downright bizarre eating habits. While some despots indulged in excessive and luxurious culinary preferences, others seemed fixated on a narrow range of food options. No matter the specifics, however, these eating habits often reflected each dictator's personality, status, ruling style, and relationship with their people. This is why examining their culinary practices can give us an insight into the complex and often twisted psyches of these tyrants. With this in mind, here are the strangest epicurean habits of some of the world's best-known dictators.

Kim Jong Il

Kim Jong Il's reign as the supreme leader of North Korea, from 1994 to 2011, was characterized by repression and propaganda that elevated him to a near god-like status. His regime's policy of militarization and nuclear development led to famine and dire economic conditions for his people. However, while the people of North Korea suffered food shortages, this certainly wasn't the case for their ruler.

Called "the biggest foodie in Asia" by Michael Breen, who penned "Kim Jong-Il: North Korea's Dear Leader," the tight-fisted dictator was known for his extravagant tastes. So what did the "Dear Leader" like to see on his menu? As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the cold-blooded gourmet enjoyed slices of sashimi cut from live fish. And when it came to getting his hands on what he wanted, money was no object. Kim Jong-Il sent his staff to Thailand for papayas and mangos, China for grapes, and Uzbekistan for caviar. The dictator was also fond of fine wine, amassing a collection of 10,000 bottles. In addition, he liked to indulge in Hennessy Cognac, which reportedly cost him a staggering $650,000 each year.

Concerned about his health, Kim Jong-Il set up an institute where the country's top physicians worked on various ways to prolong his life. One of the doctors who defected to South Korea divulged that there were once around 200 professionals involved in the department concerned with the leader's dietary needs.

Kim Jong Un

Following Kim Jong Il's death in 2011, his son, Kim Jong Un, took over his father's role as the supreme leader of North Korea, continuing the country's dictatorial leadership structure. Despite some early hopes for reforms, the Swiss-educated despot has shown no inclination to change the regime's repressive stance.

The North Korean leader is 5.9 feet tall and weighs 250 pounds. The supreme leader loves Swiss cheese (must be something to do with his stint in the European country), which has been the cause of his massive weight gain since he stepped into power.

It also appears that Kim Jong Un has followed in his father's footsteps when it comes to his expensive culinary tastes. While North Koreans face severe food shortages, the rotund tyrant enjoys feasting on sushi, shark fin soup, and fried chicken. And it doesn't help that he also smokes and binge drinks, with Johnny Walker being his tipple of choice. He's also partial to Russian vodka, Hennessy Cognac, champagne, and snake wine, or snake steeped in rice wine.

Adolf Hitler

A self-proclaimed vegetarian, Adolf Hitler regularly consumed eggs, oatmeal, stewed fruits, salads, and soups. He was known to find meat repulsive and was disgusted by the idea of eating dead bodies. Notably, prior to swearing off meat, the man behind World War II and the Holocaust was known to enjoy young pigeons filled with liver, tongue, and pistachios. During World War II, Hitler had a group of 15 women who would try his food to ensure that it wasn't poisoned.

What is more interesting than the Führer's diet, however, was his despicable table manners. As reported by the Daily Mail, the German leader suffered from terrible flatulence and would bite his fingernails at the dining table while gorging on food. A German soldier who dined with the dictator said that the despot ate huge amounts of cake, adding, "Hitler eats rapidly, mechanically; for him food is merely an indispensable means of subsistence." It's little surprise that Hitler suffered from indigestion, apparently preferring to eat broth and mashed potatoes in his final bunker days.

Nicolae Ceausescu

The Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had some very strange table manners. When attending official events, the communist dictator who ruled from 1965 until his death in 1989 would fling food served to him on the floor, then proceed to kick it away as far as he could. Alternatively, he was also known for bringing his own food to formal gatherings, even when those involved foreign leaders. When his duties took him abroad, Ceausescu would travel with a chemist-engineer who tested anything served to him in a mobile laboratory.

Aside from his unusual dining etiquette, Ceausescu's diet was pretty simple. He liked to follow a routine, scheduling his meals for the same exact time every day. He also consumed a lot of vegetables and dairy, and he wasn't a fan of carbonated drinks or chocolate. One of the dictator's favorite dishes was vegetarian lasagna garnished with sour cream and beaten egg. When it came to meat dishes, Ceausescu enjoyed chicken stews made from the entire bird, complete with the head, feet, and beak.

Vladimir Putin

While Vladimir Putin remains popular with some Russians, he has definitely shown authoritarian inclinations since he became the country's leader in 1999. During his time in power, Putin has suppressed political opposition, restricted the media, and limited the activities of various civil society organizations. For many, Putin showed his true colors with his invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Considering the poor physical condition of some of the world's other dictators, Putin is doing pretty well. Despite being 70 years old, he appears to be relatively fit. So what's his secret? Putin is a late riser and he is quite meticulous about what he eats. The Russian president starts his day with an omelet, cottage cheese, and sometimes porridge. He also enjoys quail eggs, juice, and a cup of quality coffee. Putin has also been known to share a steak and a cup of tea with former prime minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Overall, it seems that Putin is a picky eater, who likes to eat his main meal early in the day. "I usually don't have dinner, I don't have time," he says, as reported by Newsweek. "In the afternoon I try to eat fruit, to drink kefir when it's available — and when it's not, I prefer not to eat anything at all."

Benito Mussolini

Benito Mussolini was the founder of Italy's Fascist Party and led the country from 1922 to 1943. Mussolini's regime was characterized by authoritarianism, political oppression, and violence. During World War II, Mussolini entered into an alliance with Nazi Germany, declaring war on America in 1941. However, even though Mussolini was a stout nationalist, he wasn't known for his appetite for Italian cuisine. Instead, his favorite dish was a salad topped with raw garlic and drizzled with oil, which he believed was doing wonders for his heart.

Mussolini tried to replace Italy's passion for pasta with a new sense of national identity centered around rice cultivation. As World War II loomed, Mussolini's goal was to increase Italy's agricultural self-sufficiency by reducing the country's reliance on imported flour, one of the key ingredients in pasta. To say that Italians weren't impressed with the idea of giving up their beloved pasta would be an understatement. In fact, over the years, pasta ended up becoming emblematic of the anti-fascist movement.

Saddam Hussein

Known for his authoritarian ruling style, oppressive politics, and the invasion of Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990, Saddam Hussein served as the president of Iraq from 1979 until 2003. When Hussein was captured by the U.S. military in 2003, the contents of his hideout revealed that the dictator had a penchant for Western-style grub. Before he was captured, Hussein's dietary intake included hot dogs, candy bars, and soda.

After Hussein's imprisonment, the American prison guards who were assigned to him reported that the despot indulged in Raisin Bran Crunch but wasn't so keen on Froot Loops. He was also obsessed with Doritos and would get cranky if they weren't available. "He'd eat a family-size bag of Doritos in 10 minutes," Spc. Jesse Dawson was quoted as saying by NBC News. Dawson also said that the former Iraqi president was exceptionally clean and used wipes to clean the table, trays, and utensils before digging into his meals.

Idi Amin

Idi Amin's iron-fisted rule over Uganda from 1971 to 1979 was devastating for the country and its people. Ascending to power after a military coup, Amin was known as the "Butcher of Uganda" and was responsible for the death of between 300,000 and 500,000 people. The ruthless tyrant was ousted in 1979 and subsequently sought refuge in Saudi Arabia where he died in 2003.

Amin's cruelty knew no boundaries, so perhaps it's not surprising to hear that the mad dictator bragged about eating human flesh. According to "A State Of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin" by Henry Kayenba, the enemies of the former Ugandan president were found murdered and missing various body parts (via Medium). Apparently, Amin is also known to have said that human flesh was overly salty.

During his exile in Saudi Arabia, Amin is said to have enjoyed Western-style fast food such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and pizza. Some other of his favorite food choices included roast goat, millet bread, and cassava. Interestingly, the dictator also ate 40 oranges a day because he believed that they would enhance his sexual prowess.

Pol Pot

Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge, a communist movement that toppled the Cambodian government in 1975 and created a new socialist state. During his time in power from 1976 to 1979, the so-called revolutionary tried to turn Cambodia into an agrarian society through mass relocations, forced labor, and the extermination of between 1.5 and 3 million people. After Cambodia was invaded by Vietnam in 1979, Pol Pot remained in hiding until he was captured in 1997.

In comparison to other dictators, Pol Pot's diet was much less lavish. The murderous leader ate simple food such as fruit, boar, and venison. He was also partial to Chinese brandy and wine. Nevertheless, considering that his people were reduced to eating tarantulas for survival, Pol Pot's food choices can be called extravagant.

Interestingly, Pol Pot is said to have indulged in cobra stew. To make the dish, the cobra had to be beheaded and hung out in the sun to dry. This was said to remove any remaining poison from its body. The snake was then chopped and mashed with peanuts. Next, the pulp was combined with lemongrass, bitter vine leaves, and ground ginger in a pot of water, which was then simmered for around an hour.

Mao Zedong

The leader of China's Communist Party from 1935 until his death in 1976, Mao Zedong's revolutionary campaigns contributed to the deaths of around 45 million people. Mao was known to associate the heat of chili peppers with revolutionary zeal. "The food of the true revolutionary is the red pepper. And he who cannot endure red peppers is also unable to fight," Mao once said to Soviet agent Otto Braun (via Nautilus). 

While Mao generally liked simple food, there's one somewhat extravagant dish that he couldn't resist — red-braised pork. Originating in Mao's native province of Hunan, the dish is composed of braised pork belly with a caramelized sugar glaze and Shaoxing rice wine. When a reporter for NPR visited Mao's village, Shaoshan, the dictator's nephew, Mao Anping, told him in no uncertain terms that "men eat [red-braised pork] to build their brains and ladies to make themselves more beautiful." The Chinese government even came up with an official recipe for the dish to prevent any inferior imitations that could taint its association with Comrade Mao.

Muammar Gaddafi

Muammar Gaddafi seized power through a military coup that toppled the Libyan monarchy in 1969. During his 42 years in power, the despot supported numerous militant and terrorist organizations and was involved in various conflicts in countries such as Chad, Sudan, and Egypt. A staunch Islamist, he banned the sale of alcoholic beverages in Libya after he came to power.

When it comes to the dictator's food preferences, Gaddafi seems to be known for one thing — his love of drinking camel milk. Even though camel milk is rich in minerals and vitamins, such as potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, calcium, and vitamin C, the beverage had a horrible effect on Gaddafi's digestive system. Just like Hitler, he was notorious for his excessive flatulence. And this was something he apparently wasn't at all embarrassed about. But Gaddafi's enthusiasm for all things camel didn't stop there. The authoritarian also reportedly enjoyed boiled camel hump prepared with couscous.

Fidel Castro

Responsible for establishing a communist government in Cuba, Fidel Castro led the country as its prime minister from 1959 to 1976 and president from 1976 to 2008. While Castro took some steps to reduce inequality and improve access to healthcare and education, he is better known for his repressive policies that restricted personal freedoms.

Castro was primarily vegetarian, and while he enjoyed local food, the Cuban dictator also liked to indulge in imported meats, cheeses, and olives, most of which came from the States, a country that Cuba considered its sworn enemy. According to Erasmo Hernandez Leon, who used to cook for Castro, it wasn't unusual for the dictator to go all day without food simply because he would forget to eat. It also wasn't uncommon for Castro to end up cooking spaghetti for himself at odd hours of the night.

Castro loved sweets, including milkshakes and ice cream. In fact, according to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "A Personal Portrait of Fidel," Castro could polish a "good-sized lunch with 18 scoops of ice cream" (via Atlas Obscura). The dictator's fondness for ice cream almost got him assassinated when a CIA operative tried to slip a poison pill into his milkshake in 1963. In addition, Castro's passion for the sweet treat ran so deep that he commissioned the construction of one of the world's biggest ice cream parlors. Called Coppelia, the Havana ice cream shop remains open to this day.

Joseph Stalin

A key figure in Russia's Communist Party, Joseph Stalin played a big part in the development of the country's political system during his time as the USSR's dictator between 1929 and 1953. Although he claimed to support the working class, his reign was characterized by political repression, purges, and widespread human rights abuses.

Stalin was born in Georgia and had a very special affinity for his native country's cuisine, enjoying its wines, pickled cheeses, and meats. He also developed a taste for Russian nelma fish. Notably, Vladimir Putin's grandfather, Spiridon Putin, served as one of Stalin's personal chefs.

The communist leader loved to share his passion for Georgian cuisine with others, hosting six-hour-long dinners and drinking games. Not many guests could keep up with the binge drinking that accompanied these elaborate feasts. After attending one of Stalin's soirees, the Soviet politician Nikita Khrushchev once commented, "I don't think there has ever been a leader of comparable responsibilities who wasted more time than Stalin did just sitting around the dinner table eating and drinking." In a similar vein, Yugoslavia's president, Josip Broz Tito, is said to have drunk so much with Stalin that he ended up vomiting on his sleeve (via Thrillist).