Vintage menus show how much differently we eat now


While it might seem like humans have been eating the same kinds of foods for hundreds of years, a quick scan of an online menu archive located at the New York Public Library will dispell such notions. Seeing the items that have waxed and waned in popularity at dining establishments around the world is eye-opening. The archive contains over 1,332,495 dishes transcribed from 17,545 menus from restaurants the world over, dating as far back as the 1840s. 

While the Western world is experiencing a broadening of its palates with the embrace of flavors from the Middle East, India, and China, it has lost its taste for many meats. Offal used to make much more frequent appearances in restaurants, with different organs rising and falling in popularity over the years. Kidney, tongue, brain, and liver, which made frequent appearances on menus in the early part of the 20th century all but disappeared at the end of it. There's been a small resurgence in these items with the nose-to-tail movement, but it's nowhere near the levels seen 100 years ago. 

If you click through the article to the menu archive, you might find yourself down the rabbit hole for hours. It's a fascinating glimpse back in time via food. You can sort by date, name, or number of dishes, and you can quickly zoom to a particular decade. 


  • debkellie  on  2/25/2017 at 2:25 PM

    What a fantastic resource! I like their request for volunteer indexers: what a clever woman was Miss Frank E. Buttolph (1850-1924)! With great insight as to the value of menus she, in 1900, began to collect menus on the Library's behalf. Miss Buttolph added more than 25,000 menus to the collection, before leaving the Library in 1924. Great to see her work continuing and expanding as we approach International Women's Day!

  • lgroom  on  2/26/2017 at 6:06 PM

    Wow!! Thank you for sharing this. I had no idea this resource existed. This would be valuable for authors as well, wouldn't it?

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