Every New Yorker has a spot for takeout menus… even in this digital age. Some people just shove them in a drawer but others go the extra mile and meticulously put them in laminated binders. Don’t judge; with kitchens the size of closets it’s hard to cook every night which makes New Yorkers rely on the kindness of take-out delivery people.
Now the menu-obsessed can fuel their passion and check out the vintage menu collection at the New York Public Library. Exceeding any OCD New Yorker, the NYPL has more than 40,000 vintage menus on file that date back to 1843, placed in the rare-books division. Not only are researchers using it for a record of what people ate, but some academics have also used the collection to study local fish populations throughout history. What did they find out? That at the turn of the century people were grubbing the most on oyster patties and macaroni with cream.
The rare, vintage collection includes everything from the Astor House’s fare from 1843 to Chipotle’s 2010 menu. Also on file are early Chinese restaurants that were more American than Asian, as well as menus from restaurants that are still in business like Keens on West 36th St. Keen’s 1955 menu shows the power of inflation as their burgers sold for $3 back then compared to the current price of $16.50.
The collection also includes banquet and special occasion menus like Mark Twain’s 70th birthday party at Delmonico’s in 1905 and even what Queen Elizabeth ate during her 1957 visit to the Waldorf – green turtle soup and Long Island striped bass.
You can check out the collection now or get up-close and personal this summer; the NYPL is looking for volunteers to transcribe each menu into a digital database.
Fascinating… imagine if you had a collection of what you or your family ate way back in the day. What do you think you’d find? Local dishes, mass-produced food, or a wave of each?
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Research: NY Post, NYPL