The Hungry Man Eats

Monthly Archives: December 2016

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An Exciting Website With Old Menus!

I love food.


I also love the history of food.


I was puttering around on the web recently when I stumbled across this site!


It was a fascinating article that I wish I had put the time and effort into writing, but what made me super excited was this link!!


What is this site and why am I so excited? It is the New York Public Library’s website that contains scans and transcriptions of restaurant menus dating from the 1850’s all the way up to the present! At the time of this writing (December 11, 2016) the site contains 17,545 menus with 1,332,276 different dishes transcribed off of those menus! There are 422,169 unique dishes that you can sort by date, name, popularity and obscurity.


Let’s do a test!


I am going to use the key word “scallops” let’s see what we find:


The word “scallops” appears on 1,840 different menus and is included in 3,964 different dishes. You can sort from earliest to latest date and it appears that the earliest mention of “scallops” is on the menu for the Manhattan Hotel dated April 18, 1900 appearing as “Scallops 0.35-0.6” This info is provided on a list on the right side of the page, or you can click on the scan of the menu page and peruse it yourself. Further research by looking at the menu scan indicates that the lower price (in cents) is a half portion for single service only. In this instance there is no detail as to how those scallops are prepared (but I am sure the waiter would have been more than happy to tell you). Unfortunately it appears that the menu search only goes from oldest to newest, so I can’t tell anything about the most recent appearance of “scallops” and I am not going to click to show more results only 16 menus at a time to get to entry number 1840.


You also can dive deep with the names of dishes, I mentioned above that the word “scallops” was used in the listings for 3,964 dishes. You can click on one of the dish names and it will give you more info on which menus it appeared in and it will also provide a graph of the normalized frequency per year (when and how often did the term appear in menus) Let’s use “Bisque of Scallops” as out example. That term appeared in 4 menus between 1905 and 1965 (appearing specifically in one menu per year scanned in the years 1905, 1913, 1916 and 1965). Twice it appeared on the menus for the Waldorf Astoria in 1913 and 1916, but has not appeared in any of the scanned menus since 1965 (in the Newarker at Newark Airport menu).


I have hit the motherlode here and I could get lost in this site for hours. If you are as big of a dork about food and food history as I am, run, don’t walk to this site and check it out for yourself!



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