That's the question to you from the New York Public Library.
Only they aren't asking about what food is on YOUR menu tonight...they are asking you to tell THEM what is on THEIR menu.
Or more accurately...what the words are on their menus.
All 40,000 of their menus.
Menus that were created between 1840 to the present.
Mostly hand written, or printed in very unusual fonts that just can't be scanned in and translated by a computer program.
With approximately 40,000 menus dating from the 1840s to the present, The New York Public Library’s restaurant menu collection is one of the largest in the world, used by historians, chefs, novelists and everyday food enthusiasts.
Trouble is, the menus are very difficult to search for the greatest treasures they contain: specific information about dishes, prices, the organization of meals, and all the stories these things tell us about the history of food and culture.
To solve this, the library is working to improve the collection by transcribing the menus, dish by dish. Doing this will dramatically expand the ways in which the collection can be researched and accessed, opening the door to new kinds of discoveries.
The library has built a simple tool that makes the transcribing pretty easy to do, but it’s a big job, so they need your help.
It really is simple and easy to do: You click on a menu that catches your eye from a page full of menus.
Then you click on the first word in a sentence and a box opens up beside the menu. You type in what you think the sentence says.
Like with the last sentence of the menu above: I read it as:
Crackers + Cheese. Tea + Coffee.
That was easy to do, right?
But you have to admit...one of the lines looks like Boiled Beef Spanish.
That couldn't be right...but Boiled Beef Spareribs? That sounds more like it.
Once a sentence has been transcribed by someone, a green check mark shows up next to the sentence.
A second read over is possible so other people could offer what they think the sentence said. Maybe someone regularly has Boiled Beef Spanish as part of their own culture's family recipe?
Want to try doing a little Menu transcribing yourself?
Click HERE and get started. You just need to click on one of menus pictured, then click on the first letter of a sentence on a menu page that will be shown and a box will open where you will type in what you see.
A green arrow will point at the sentence you have selected to transcribe.
Take a peek at several to find a menu that interests you.
Do one sentence, or two or the whole menu. The library doesn't even ask for your name...no one will ever know what you have been up to!
As I am posting this the library already has over 400 pages of transcribed menus to look at.
And if you are curious about what a certain food might have been served with on a fancy-schmancy menu, you can search by menu items.
ABOUT THE MENUSThe New York Public Library’s menu collection, housed in the Rare Book Division, originated through the energetic efforts of Miss Frank E. Buttolph (1850-1924), who, 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.
The collection has continued to grow through additional gifts of graphic, gastronomic, topical, or sociological interest, especially but not exclusively New York-related.
The collection now contains approximately 40,000 items, about 10,000 of which have been digitized and made available in the NYPL Digital Gallery. More information can be found here.