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What's on the Menu?, Food for Thought, NYPL Labs

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 difficult - if not impossible - to search in our digitized menu collection.

Yes, you can search “oyster”, but you’ll get “Oyster Bay” instead of saddlerocks, or “Shanley Bros. Oyster House” instead of blue points. In other words you get the location and restaurant name­, but not the very content (the food!) of the menu.

So we’ve built a website where you can tell us “What’s on the Menu?” and help create what we like to call a “database of dishes.” From your transcriptions, I hope we can learn about the foods of the last century to see what these historic menus can teach us about the culinary landscape today. Here are some items I’m excited to track over the next few months:

Rise and fall of oysters
Vichy water
Battle Creek Sanitarium dishes
Moselle wine

And this is just the beginning! We'll be following many more foods and wines from these unique primary sources of our dining history. So help us “do the dishes” and we can all reap the rewards.

Go to What's on the Menu? and jump in!


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What's on the Menu?

This project is so much fun! Thank you for opening this up to the public, I really enjoy merging my inner food geek with my inner editing nerd, and all for a great cause--just love it!

Thanks, Elizabeth! Everyone

Thanks, Elizabeth! Everyone at NYPL is really excited about "What's on the Menu?" and we're thrilled to hear that you're enjoying it, too. Thanks for writing and transcribing!


This project is a lot of fun and I have enjoyed browsing the menus. I teach Culinary Arts and my Food and Culture class will get a kick out of this. I am a little concerned about how some of the prices are getting transcribed. Is there a final step to the "completed" menus? For example, the New York Athletic Club Menu shows Red Head Duck for 2 75, a price that was transcribed as $275.00 (I can understand how people would assume the whole numbers equaled dollars). However, on the same menu the beer is clearly priced 10 cents. If I use this database in class, I want to be sure the prices are represented accurately and I'm not sure they currently are. I know it will be a valuable tool in my classroom once it is ready to go; I'm just not clear as to when that will be. Are the menus marked as "complete" really complete? Thank you, Jessica

"Done"?? Prices??

I agree with Jessica regarding the prices. For example, on the menu "Cunard Line R.M.S. Etrurie, March 11th, 1900" there are prices for the alcoholic beverages but it is unclear to me what they are because there are no decimals. I don't want to mark it complete or "Done" because another transcriber may come along and understand them. So, what should a transcriber do?? The idea for this database is fabulous and we all want it to be truly useful when it is finished. p.s. As a long time menu reader and food history hound, this service project is perfect for me!

Done and Prices

Hi Karen and Jessica, Thanks for your great questions! I try to answer some of them on today's blog post ( and we're definitely still working on many of these issues behind-the-scenes. Your questions and comments are incredibly helpful to us in making the site more user-friendly, so keep 'em coming! Thanks again, Rebecca

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