One thing’s for certain: if you’re a member of the royal family, you’ll never go hungry. After all, they have teams of cooks to prepare their meals and undoubtedly vast kitchens inside their huge palaces. They also have enough money to purchase whatever fancy food items they see fit. But as with almost everything they do in public, what they eat at their grand dinners is still governed by rules and protocol. There is, in fact, one particular type of food that they’re not allowed to enjoy at all.
Most of the time, of course, the royals eat like… well, royalty. To even have a shot at a job in the Buckingham Palace kitchen, for instance, candidates need to have a City and Guilds catering qualification, a good knowledge of fine cuisine and the ability to speak at least a little French. Most palace cooks start at the bottom, too, and work their way up by learning the Queen’s favorite recipes.
“Although you’re cooking for 300 staff and kings and presidents, you’re also cooking for a family,” former Palace chef Darren McGrady told the Daily Telegraph in 2013. “For two pensioners, with particular likes and dislikes. You’d never put garlic in the Queen’s menu, for example, or strong onions or paprika, because she hates them.”
The Queen does indeed have some firm opinions about her food. Indeed, she enjoys sandwiches, especially circular jam ones with the crusts removed. And whenever she has a traditional roast joint of meat, she is always served the end piece, as it’s her favorite cut. Plus, she keeps the breadsticks served at state banquets to give to her beloved corgi dogs.
She’s also a little frugal. In fact, she once questioned why a chef had used a whole lemon in her garnish because “surely it could be used again?” This prudence might date back to when she was a princess growing up during World War II, as the royal family were expected to ration their food in line with the rest of the U.K.
But while the Queen generally adheres to a healthy diet, Prince Philip is more a cooked-breakfast-and-barbecue type. Allegedly, he even has a frying pan that he takes everywhere with him! And his favorite meal, according to Darren McGrady, is filet mignon in a creamy mushroom and whisky sauce. It must be working out for Philip, though, seeing as he turned 96 in 2017 and was performing royal duties right up until then.
Prince Charles, on the other hand, eats very healthily. He even grows his own organic vegetables at his estate in Gloucestershire and apparently takes them everywhere he goes. In fact, his one-time personal chef Carolyn Robb would pack multiple boxes of the Prince’s home-grown food to take with him whenever he left the country.
“He liked to have his own food with him,” Robb told the Daily Mail in 2015. “He couldn’t risk going down with a bad stomach when he was so busy.” And this fear of ill health at an inopportune time feeds into the reason why a certain food is banned: royals simply can’t afford to be sick when they have work to do.
Yes, the food that’s not permitted is shellfish. Why? Because it poses a risk of food poisoning and that would be problematic for a royal on a diplomatic tour. So while many high-class dishes are made with shellfish, the royals aren’t allowed to dine on them in public.
But while shellfish remains the principal no-no, royals are also discouraged from eating rare meat or spicy food. Tap water from foreign countries is also frowned upon. (Yep, even that can potentially make you sick.) However, all these rules aren’t necessarily always followed…
Apparently, the younger royals – the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry – do bend the rules by tucking into shellfish when it’s required of them. Indeed, when they visited a food festival in Canada’s Okanagan Valley in 2016, the Duke and Duchess tried what The Huffington Post described as “a very phallic-looking clam.”
But William and Kate may not have particularly enjoyed their sneaky shellfish. According to the Daily Mirror, William described it as “quite challenging,” and Kate called it, diplomatically, “really unusual.” Of course, no one would have knocked the meal out of their hands; their handlers aren’t quite that strict. But both royals were completely fine afterwards.
So what problems do shellfish pose for the diner? Well, shellfish lack proper digestive systems which would otherwise allow them to filter out toxins from their bodies. Naturally, then, they can end up with plenty of unpleasant things inside them due to the way they feed – eating the skin of dead animals, for example. And these could end up inside the system of the person who eats them.
So it’s easy to see why the older royals avoid shellfish completely. After all, while most shellfish are perfectly safe, it is still possible to get a “bad” one. This can happen if it hasn’t been handled properly, for instance, or if it was harvested from the wrong waters. Eating one of those, then, can cause severe gastrointestinal illness, which is especially dangerous to the elderly.
And although food-related illnesses are less of a problem today, thanks to our greater knowledge of medicine, royals do have a history of dying from them. King Henry I, for example, who ruled from 1100 to 1135, died after eating a “surfeit of lampreys.” And historians have long speculated that Henry VIII’s love of food drove him to an early grave at the age of 55.
And then of course there were intentional poisonings. In fact, monarchs and emperors of the ancient times were so afraid of being poisoned that some of them employed “food-tasters” to test their food before they ate it. If the meal had been tampered with, then, the food-taster would be the one to suffer the consequences.
Interestingly, the practice of food-tasting survives to this day. Indeed, Barack Obama allegedly shunned food during a lunch with politicians on Capitol Hill because his food-taster was elsewhere. Apparently, if the food-taster wasn’t present at meals outside of the White House, the president simply didn’t eat.
It’s theoretically possible, therefore, that the Queen and her family could eat as much shellfish as they pleased if only they had a taster to try it first. However, by all accounts, the Queen doesn’t have one and is perfectly content to carry on as she is, avoiding certain foods but indulging in the ones she likes.
And it’s not just the “no shellfish” rule that she adheres to. Former royal chef Graham Newbould let slip a secret on the TV show Secrets of the Royal Kitchen in 2002. He said, “The royals never have square sandwiches because tradition has it that anyone presenting them with pointed-edged food is trying to overthrow the throne of England.” Who knew?
It’s fun being a royal, no doubt. As well as the pageantry and the fame and fortune, having so many chefs at your disposal must be a boon. You can order food when you like, how you like, and you’ll never have to worry about the cost. However, if you’re into shellfish – or spices, raw steaks or pointed-edged sandwiches for that matter – maybe it’s not the life for you.