It’s been 108 years since the Titanic sank in an infamous tragedy. We can only empathize with the passengers and speculate about what their lives were like. Today, we’ll try to catch a glimpse of that through the lens of the food they ate.
Titanic Served Continental Food
As the popular French lawyer named Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”
The Titanic held a luxurious abundance of meat, fish and vegetables to make the best European savory dishes with, flour for freshly baked and buttered bread and fruits (such as apples) for dessert.
Food Amongst the Classes
The food onboard the Titanic could have fed more than two thousand passengers for a week, but not all of them ate the same meals. The sort of food served depended on which of the three classes on the ship a passenger belonged to.
The best food was served in lavishly decorated restaurants and cafes to the 324 first-class passengers on board. Second-class and third-class passengers also traveled in comfort even though the dining facilities available to them were not as spacious or varied as that of first class passengers.
Large Selection With Kosher Options
The Titanic had many Jewish passengers on-board, so chef Charles Kennel was charged with preparing kosher food for them. For breakfast alone, Titanic passengers were served an extravagant selection of light morning meals. First-class facilities included the finest accommodations, gyms, baths, pools… but the profusion of cafes and restaurants open exclusively to first-class passengers were the most popular.
Thé A la Carte Restaurant served French haute cuisine, while the dining saloon had buffet stations. So what did first-class passengers have after they woke up from a night’s peaceful slumber?
Fresh or Cooked Fruit? Both!
The Titanic was known to have around 36,000 apples and oranges on board. This means that there were plentiful baked apples to go around. To whet the more distinguished appetites, apple meringue was served with custard cream.
Prunes were stewed to ease stomachs. The early 1990s were decadently sweet when it came to breakfast food. Oats with milk and hominy were also served with these fresh and cooked fruits.
Herring, Haddock, Salmon
For savory breakfasts that are still light, fish such as herring, haddock, and salmon were served with puffed rice. Although fish and chips were famously popular in Great Britain during the time, fish was most commonly served baked aboard the Titanic.
Salted and dried fish were present as well. The distinctive flavor of the smoked salmon made it the most popular fish, though. There were a whopping 11,000 pounds of fresh fish on the Titanic RMS when it set sail.
In the early 1900s, British citizens were growing and rearing food; meat and vegetables made up the munch of their daily food. There were many cows, sheep, pigs, and rabbits around. So, beef, lamb/mutton, and pork were common. The little chickens that were reared were kept around mostly for their eggs.
It is no surprise then that grilled meat was so popular on the Titanic, even for breakfast. Grilled mutton kidney with bacon was a classic British breakfast that made it on-board amongst all the continental food.
Ham, Sausage or Lamb Collops?
Grilled pork was similarly popular just like grilled mutton, but pig meat was also salted/smoked into ham and ground into sausage. The ham must have been served with eggs. A traditional Scottish dish – lamb collops – was served as well.
It was made with thin slices of tenderized lamb simmered with onions. One did not need to go to the dining saloon to have this breakfast of meat, fish, and vegetables. Breakfast was also served in cabins through the use of food warmers.
British breakfasts were generally served at 8-8:30 AM during the early 1900s. Contrary to popular belief, instead of meat chops/cold meats, a breakfast of cooked fish with eggs and bacon was the norm. Eggs were sold by the dozen or bartered for other commodities.
On the Titanic, the 40,000 eggs on-board were served four ways each morning. Passengers could have it fried in fat, baked with cream, poached, or boiled in water.
Omelets and Tomatoes
In the Titanic, fresh eggs would be beaten and pan-fried in fat before being served hot to the passengers. The omelet could be folded around fillings such as tomato if a passenger so desired. There were 3,500 lb. of tomatoes on-board.
For 200 years, tomatoes had been feared in Europe because they were mistakenly believed to be poisonous/contain poisonous worms. The fear finally subsided just a few decades before the Titanic’s maiden voyage after Joseph Campbell popularized it, and canned soup and tomatoes became well-liked in the 1910s.
Sirloin Steak and Mutton Chops
Both mutton chops and sirloin steaks were made to order for first-class passengers. A famous anecdote claims that the name “sirloin” came to be when King James I of England was so impressed by his steak that he knighted the beef loin, so it was called “Sir Loin” from there onwards.
The British refrigerated meat trade was roaring in the 1910s. Imported meat accounted for nearly 40% of British consumption when the Titanic set sail. British imports of frozen mutton and lamb would reach record highs.
Shortly after the Irish famine, a number of research stations were established in order to find new varieties of disease-resistant potatoes. Aboard the Titanic, you could have potatoes in several ways too: mashed potatoes, sautéed potatoes, or jacket potatoes.
There were 40 tons of potatoes on board, after all! This starchy plant tuber was had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It must have been the most popular vegetable on the ship!
Freshly Baked Rolls and Scones!
Vienna rolls, for those who don’t know, were crusty round shaped rolls that were made with white flour. Graham rolls, as the name suggests, were made with Graham flour. Both were baked onboard fresh every day.
For those who did not like these sweet rolls, soda and sultan scones were available. Soda scones had a dense texture because they were made with baking soda-processed flour. These rolls and scones were served with cold meat.
Cornbread from Native Americans
Cornbread is made with cornmeal and risen with the help of baking powder. Cornbread had been a steamship menu regular for a few decades before the Titanic set sail. This food item was created by Native Americans with maize.
When European settlers came to the New World, they started adapting the Native Americans’ basic cornbread recipe. It was yet another type of bread available to first-class passengers on the RMS Titanic.
Pancakes With Conserve, Honey, or Marmalade
Buckwheat pancakes, which were more like crepes, were made for passengers who preferred their nutty flavor. It was served with butter and maple syrup but could also be topped with black currant conserve, Narbonne honey, or Oxford marmalade.
The conserve was made in Essex while the marmalade was made in Oxford. The expensive light-colored, rosemary-scented Narbonne honey was produced all the way in France. Some passengers had watercress to aid digestion after having buckwheat pancakes with their choice of decadently sweet topping.
Firm, Sweet Brill!
Brill was a popular fish in the U.K. during the time and is even now. It is a flatfish with an enjoyable firmness and sweet flavor. Brill is most closely associated with turbot. It has a smooth, dark-brown skin and a creamy-white underside.
The sweet, firm flesh of brill makes it excellent for frying or grilling and serving with butter and lemon, of which there was plenty aboard the Titanic. Since there were thousands of pounds of butter and lemons on the Titanic, this wouldn’t have been a problem!
Eggs With Asparagus!
Egg a l’argenteuil sounds deceptively fancy for a dish that is made with just eggs (scrambled) and asparagus. Britain has had a long love affair with asparagus since the Romans first introduced it to them. The British climate allows asparagus to develop slowly so that it becomes sweet and tender.
No wonder the first-class passengers liked it! The popularity of asparagus at the time is demonstrated by the fact that it was featured in the first-class dinner menu as well.
Fried Maryland and Cream Sauce
Who knew fried chicken would make it to a first-class menu! Chicken a la Maryland is pan-fried and served with gravy. It was on the menu for what was to be the last lunch on the Titanic. Cookbooks at the time asked for Chicken a la Maryland to be prepared as follows.
It was to be sprinkled with salt and pepper, dipped in flour, egg, and crumbs, and then pan-fried in butter. After plating, the recipes asked for a cup of cream sauce to be poured over it!
Corned beef was served with dumplings and gravy on the last lunch of April 11th. The “corn” in corned beef refers to small crystals of salt that were used to cure the meat.
The last lunch menu also came with beetroot and custard pudding after they had their fill of corned beef. The Irish were the first exporters of corned beef, and it is now considered an Irish national dish.
The two buffet stations in the dining saloon offered more fish options. There was salmon mayonnaise. Back then, mayonnaise was a simple thin sauce freshly made with oil, vinegar, and egg. Potted shrimps, i.e. brown shrimp cooked in butter flavored with nutmeg were served as well.
The nutmeg-flavored butter in potted shrimps, which were a traditional British dish, would act as a preservative. First-class diners who preferred this could therefore start with fillets of brill before having herring, salmon, and shrimp.
Anchovies, Herrings, Sardines
In case any first-class passenger preferred cured fish over fresh fish, there were Norwegian anchovies, soused herrings, and smoked sardines to go. Anchovies are small, oily fish that is often cured to give it a bold, pungent flavor.
Herring are forage fish that were soaked in liquid. Sardines are oily forage fish that were smoked. These cured fishes were served with cheese, meant to be shared at the end of the meal.
Beef or Veal and Ham Pie
Freshly cooked beef was, of course, on the menu in the form of a hearty roast or a delicious round of cured beef which was boiled.
These are traditional festive dishes in many countries even today. Salt beef went out of fashion in England and Wales but was still well-liked in Ireland when the Titanic set sail. On the other hand, veal and ham pie was offered as an alternative to beef.
Virginia and Cumberland Ham
If first-class passengers didn’t want to have their ham in a pie, they could opt to have baked ham served cold and thinly sliced with a tangy sauce made of Dijon mustard and cucumber.
Virginia ham has a notable rich flavor because it is dry-cured with salt and pepper, rubbed with a spice mix, slow-smoked over a slow-burning hickory or oak fire, and then kept for months. It is boiled just before serving.
Brawn is essentially a jellified loaf or sausage set in gelatin. It was initially made from the head of the boar but most commonly made with that of pigs. Considered peasant food in the early Middle Ages, it was cooked in animal skin and served.
Later elevated, pickles and vinegar were added to it. The head is cooked in the broth and later torn apart and spiced up. The meat is then put back in the broth and left to be set until it is sliceable.
Bologna Sausage or Galantine of Chicken
Bologna is an Italian pork sausage that is spiced with peppercorn and salt. The American baloney is a poor imitation of bologna itself, and the U.S government regulation to make it finely ground has made it worse.
Galantines of chicken are ground poultry, herbs, spices, or spirits stuffed inside the skin of the bird itself. It is then trussed tightly and poached in flavored stock. They are thinly sliced to be arranged decoratively on presentation mirrors for buffet tables.
Corned Ox Tongue With a Variety of Cheese
The corned ox tongue has nothing to do with corn. It was coined for the usage of gunpowder as a drying agent to preserve meat.
The corned ox tongue was eaten as a part of a salad, as a sandwich, or merely as a cold cut in the Titanic. Hence, it came with a side of a variety of cheese. More than eight types of cheese made its way with this item on the menu.
Main Course for First Class
The first class’s main courses were sumptuous, including exquisite dishes like Hors D’Oeuvres, Consommé Olga, Oysters, Roast duckling with apple sauce, Beef Sirloin, Chateau Potatoes, Lamb and mint sauce, Filet Mignon Lili, and many others.
All these dishes came with a side of vegetables. These dishes were not only ridiculously expensive but all indulgent as well. Then there was tea and coffee stocked to the brim for all first-class passengers too.
Filet Mignons Lili
The filet mignon lili was, by far, the most ridiculously indulgent dish on the Titanic. It is a tenderloin beef that is topped with a slice of foie gras alongside black truffles.
It came with buttery potatoes and a creamy sauce of Madeira drink and beef stock. The dish was only available on the a la carte menu. This was a clear example of the luxury of those $600 ticket holders aboard the Titanic.
Sauté of Chicken Lyonnais
Lyonnais is a sauce made of sautéed onion, tomatoes, and vinegar. The chicken pieces are sautéed in butter until partly cooked. The onion is sautéed in the favored butter until browned, to which vinegar is added and reduced until thick.
The chicken pieces are added back to the sauce and served after seasoning. This dish shows the influence of French cuisine on the menu of Titanic. The vinegar sauce is famous in Lyons too.
Vegetable Marrow Farci
Vegetable marrow farci is a stuffed dish. This was a vegetable entrée for the first-class diners in the Titanic. Onion, basil, and tomato were sautéed in butter until soft and browned. The mixture was then stuffed into a lengthwise cut and scooped out section of an oval summer squash.
Topped with bone marrow, it was then baked. This is a very light summery dish, perfect after a hard day. Nonetheless, this is very flavorful when correctly prepared, making it a favorite amongst passengers over the other meaty dishes.
Lamb, Duckling, or Beef
This was the main course for first-class passengers. Lamb, duck, and beef have been expensive food choices in the history of food for as long as we know. The lamb was seared off in butter and exquisitely paired with a beautiful mint sauce.
The duckling was roasted on its bone with preserved spices and served as cuts with a smooth buttery applesauce, and the sirloin beef was a tender piece in itself, so it was paired with a simple side of chateau potatoes.
The green peas, creamed carrots, boiled rice, boiled potato, and cress were mostly the sides to the main courses. Besides, squab, basically a small pigeon, was one of the dishes in the menu. In the earlier days, this tiny bird was considered a delicacy.
Some chefs even today feature pigeons in their menu. It’s a delicate piece of fowl, making it very tender and tasty. The pigeon was roasted and paired with a simple asparagus salad tossed in vibrant vinaigrette.
Pate De Foie Gras
Foie gras is a pate made out of duck liver. The liver was minced and seasoned and then baked in a water bath. This is a very indulging and ridiculously expensive dish even today. The pate was paired with simple celery sticks.
Now, celery sticks might seem like a dumb choice to pair with something so expensive, but between the 1850s and 1880s, celery sticks were considered a delicacy. Hence, this might be called a Victorian-era statement of an opulence dish.
The desserts for the first-class passenger were kept simple. It came with a Waldorf pudding, peaches in Chartreuse jelly, chocolate and vanilla eclairs, and French ice cream. This simplistic menu for the first class was exactly what the menu needed after that massive main course.
The Titanic boarded with months’ worth of supplies of food. While it is relatively easy to store and preserve meat and birds, the same can’t be said for desserts.
Peach Jelly, Éclairs, and Ice Cream
These were the simple dessert items in the first-class dining hall. The peaches in Chartreuse jelly is a set jelly of chartreuse liquid with slices of peaches in it. The chocolate vanilla eclairs were another identification of French influence on the menu.
The éclair is a simple choux pastry with French pastry cream. The entire pastry was dipped in chocolate. The French ice cream was made with double Anglaise, making it creamier than those served in the second class.
Second Class Food
The second class food was as good as the first-class diner. The food ranged from ham and fried eggs, fried potatoes, grilled sausage to Yarmouth bloater. There was roast beef too. Delicacies like consommé tapioca, lamb with mint sauce, and jelly were also present.
For desserts, there was the nostalgia of American ice-cream. The second-class food was mostly served buffet style, which included unlimited tea and coffee. It is safe to say these $13 ticket holders did not have it that bad in terms of food.
Boiled Hominy and Yarmouth Bloaters
The breakfast menu for the second class travelers was different every day, which wasn’t the case for first-class travelers. On April 11th of 1912, the breakfast for the second class passengers included rolled oats, Yarmouth bloaters, and boiled hominy.
Although the name of the dish “Yarmouth bloaters” might sound unappetizing, it was actually quite a popular dish back in those days. Since it came in a can, the dish could be stored for a long time, making it the perfect meal on a cruise.
Dry Hash and Ox Kidneys
American dry hash au gratin and grilled ox kidneys were simple dishes, although the names might suggest otherwise. These were served buffet style and were served until the guests were ready for their tea. The grilled ox kidney was a simple grilled dish that came with bacon.
The American dry hash au gratin is corned beef mixed in mashed potato to be baked into a meatloaf kind of dish. The luncheon menu essentially wasn’t quite exclusive.
Soda Scones, Graham Rolls, and Cakes
The soda scones, Graham rolls, and buckwheat cakes that came with maple syrup were snacks that were served with tea. These were pretty famous amongst the people of the low socio-economic class. They were cheap and yet came with a hint of nostalgia.
The soda scones were savory biscuits and buckwheat cakes with maple syrup were comparatively more affordable than the cakes served in the high garden teas of the first class. The Graham rolls were what every grandma made at home—nothing special but everything amazing.
This is a clear soup cooked in a creamy broth. The tapioca is referred to as the fisheye. The fisheye was considered a delicacy back then. It is still a delicacy in some cuisines today. The taste is uniquely salty.
Some believe that this dish is a clear consommé with the tapioca referring to cassava flour pearls. It is believed to be a light and nourishing opening to a heavy meal.
Curried Chicken, Baked Haddock, or Spring Lamb
The baked haddock was coated with breadcrumbs, parmesan, chives, and parsley accompanied by a sharp sauce. This sauce was a vinegar base sauce added to cut off the fattiness of the fish.
The curried chicken was a simple curry made with raisin, honey, and curry powder brought from India. The spring lamb was roasted lamb leg with dill and other spices served with a vibrant mint sauce. These main courses were quite basic but full of robust flavors.
Thanksgiving Food and Coconut Sandwiches
Roast turkey and cranberry sauce, puree turnips, green peas, boiled rice, plum pudding, boiled or roasted potatoes, and coconut sandwiches – another list of simple dishes for the second class. The cranberry sauce that came with roast turkey was quite popular.
The coconut sandwich was a cream-filled sandwich of cookies with heavy garnishing of coconut and vanilla. Although a popular dinner dessert, today, the coconut is more of an accompanying item with evening tea.
American Ice Cream
Unlike what was served in the first class, the ice cream in the second and third class dinner wasn’t as indulgent. The American ice cream is typically eggless, making the dessert much lighter than its contemporary.
However, that did not compromise the taste of this item, as it was very popular amongst the passengers. We believe that it was due to the class difference that the humble ice cream was served from different recipes in different classes.
Nuts, Fresh Fruits, Biscuits, Cheese, and Coffee
Unlike every other food item on the menus, nuts, fresh fruits, cheese, and coffee were the same in every dining room class at all courses. Everyone, regardless of the class, had access to nuts, fruits, and more than eight variations of cheese.
The biscuits often differed in forms, like the coconut sandwich or soda scones that were only available to the third class passengers. Tea and coffee were made available to all in unlimited quantities.
Third Class Breakfast
The third class breakfast menu was not that extensive compared to that of the other classes. It had oatmeal cooked in milk and sweetened with sugar or made into a savory porridge with salt, smoked herring, Butterflied herring, ham and eggs, jacket or baked potatoes, marmalade, rye bread, and unlimited serving of coffee and tea.
Tea was already the drink of choice for breakfast. So, despite the class difference, the passengers were no less satisfied with their food choices.
Third Class Dinner
The dinner or the biggest meal of the day typically served meat and potatoes with rice soup. The rice soup was bland but filling. The main course had roast beef and a brown gravy. The brown gravy is a roux-based gravy made with flour and juices of cooked meat.
The sides included boiled potatoes, sweet corn, and cabin biscuits. The meal ended with flour, milk, and dried fruit pudding that was steamed. It was not your typical pudding, yet it was a delicious treat to these passengers.