If you went to see psychological horror classic Silence of the Lambs in the theaters and wondered why Hannibal Lecter's most famous line in the movie got a surprisingly loud guffaw from the person in the audience who was wearing full scrubs, it turns out that's because it was a very obscure medical joke.
First, the most famous line of the film, "hello Clarice," isn't actually in the film.
That line is an example of the "Mandela Effect", or a mass misremembering of an event or piece of art. However, the second most famous line, "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti," does actually appear in the film, and it's this that had the medical professionals grinning.
Lecter – whose backstory includes him being a forensic psychiatrist – likely chose those foods specifically because it is recommended to avoid them if you are on a class of strong anti-depressants known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
Liver, fava beans, and wine – specifically Chianti (as well as vermouth) – are foods that need to be avoided if you are on MAOIs due to the presence of tyramine within them.
"Eating foods with high tyramine can trigger a reaction that can have serious consequences," a paper on the topic reads.
"Patients should know that tyramine can increase with the aging of food; they should be encouraged to have fresh foods instead of leftovers or food prepared hours earlier. Examples of high levels of tyramine in food are types of fish and types of meat, including sausage, turkey, liver, and salami. Also, certain fruits can contain tyramine, like overripe fruits, avocados, bananas, raisins, or figs. Further examples are cheeses, alcohol, and fava beans; all of these should be avoided even after two weeks of stopping MAOIs.
"Anyone taking MAOIs is at risk for an adverse hypertensive reaction, with accompanying morbidity."
The joke, as suggested by mrcchapman on Reddit, was not meant to bring the house down, but was likely a reference to the fact that he was either off his medication when he consumed the forbidden meat, or that he was misusing his medication.
"Lecter is a) cracking a joke for his own amusement, and b) saying he's not taking his meds," mrcchapman wrote.
As for why he chose Chianti and fava beans specifically, it's probably because it sounds more pleasing than "I ate his kidney with some overripe avocados, raisins, and salami."