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What's on the Menu?

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News, histories and culinary findings from NYPL's collaborative menu transcription project

Learn more and get involved at menus.nypl.org

Train Travel Menus

When it comes to romantic ways to travel across the United States, the train gets short shrift. Cars, even Greyhound buses, are the usual setting for burgeoning love affairs, quiet introspection, and hunger for new beginnings. This September, however, train travel gets its due when video artist Doug Aitken celebrates the modest Amtrak with his latest project, Station to Station. Aitken will take an Amtrak train and transform it into a moving kinetic light sculpture (this is not your mother's Northeast Corridor), with stops in major cities along 

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Mad Men on the Menu

You are what you eat is the common adage, but What you eat describes who you are is more appropriate for circa 1960s Madison Avenue and New York City.

The power lunch. Two-for-one happy hour. The business dinner. A sandwich from the corner diner. Scotch at 11am.

Food and drink play an important role in Mad Men.

The production design certainly gives the show an air of visual authenticity and nothing grounds a 

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Chinese American Food: Stories of Odds and Ends

Did you know that some of your favorite dishes from a Chinese take out restaurant have interesting stories behind them? The origin of their names, the ingredients used and how they were conceived and transformed in America all make fascinating tales in food history.

Since the 19th century, Chinese immigrants opened restaurants throughout the American frontier. These dishes preserved and reflected the different Chinese cultural and regional identities. Initially they were not accepted or liked by Americans because they were perceived as foreign. However, many dishes 

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Saluting S.S. President Johnson

As you might have noticed, the transcription queue has been fairly text-heavy lately. The Hotels Commodore, Astor, Mc Alpin, and Pierre are well-represented, and the sheer number of dishes on each of their menus can quickly fatigue one's fingers.

But every so often, amidst the towering hotels, something different pops up. Recently, the lovely menus of the S.S. 

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Happy Birthday to... Us! A Year of Menus

It's hard to believe, but a year ago this week the New York Public Library launched What's on the Menu?!

Two days in from our very first Tweet, we had 1,000 dishes transcribed. As of this writing, we have 866,636 dishes dishes transcribed and we're not done yet.

We still have many more menus to digitize and we're working hard on new ways to make the site even easier to navigate and use.

But before the next year begins, Michael Inman, Ben Vershbow, and I wanted to take 

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Maury and the Menu: A Brief History of the Cunard Steamship Company

In 1907 the Cunard Steamship Company launched the first of their Express Liners, the Lusitania and the

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Hold the Applause! Testimonial Menus

Perhaps you’ve noticed a few more people joining the menu party lately. The Buncombe County Medical Association is here. As are our friends from the National Life Insurance Company. We’ve even extended an invite to our canine crew (and their owners) from the Philadelphia Dog Show Association.

Clubs, organizations, companies, and associations often hosted an 

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The Queen B: Miss Buttolph and Her Menus

If you've transcribed even one menu, you've likely seen her stamp. A blue oval bearing her name, "Buttolph Collection", as graceful as a branding iron over asparagus, Russian caviar, or Boston baked beans.

Miss Frank E. Buttolph stamped nearly every menu she collected for the New York Public Library, twenty-three years worth, amounting to roughly 25,000 menus under her tenure 

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New Feature! Unlock Menus to Continue Editing

We've gotten a number of questions over the past week of What's on the Menu? about menus marked as "done." Do we really mean done? As in finished, vetted, archived for posterity? Fear not, we've cleared up this confusion with some new language. What we really meant to say was "under review."

On several occasions, a volunteer e-mailed us saying they'd spotted errors, or missing dishes, on menus marked as complete. I happily re-opened the menus in question (a facility only open to site administrators) and 

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Tricky Menu Tips: Ditto Marks, Prices, and More

Wow. We're sitting here with our mouths agape, simply overwhelmed --and thrilled! -- by the response to What's on the Menu? We knew you guys liked food, but holy (broiled) mackerel!

We launched WOTM very quietly, just three days ago, and, as of this typing, we have over 22K dishes transcribed! And it's evident, from the emails and tweets we've been receiving, that we have some very enthusiastic participants out there. Thank you!

But as you may have noticed, each menu is very different. Each has its quirks and 

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Doin' the Dishes!

Saratoga ChipsCorned Beef Hash.  Large Pot of Oolong Tea

Okay, so they’re not included in the works of Shakespeare (as far as I know), but that doesn’t mean these dishes aren't of value to researchers and scholars and the generally curious who read menus in order to learn more about the food served and consumed in restaurants throughout history.

But until now this kind of information (the food!) was 

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