Great Job, Internet!: These historical menus show how drastically the way we eat has changed

Perusing the New York Public Library’s database of historical menus is an eye-opening jaunt through the unfamiliar food cultures of yore. What’s really impressive about the initiative—called “What’s on the menu?”—is that from NYPL’s robust initial goal of transcribing and digitizing 9,000 menus, there’s now 45,000 menus in the database from across the globe, dating as far back as the 1840s.

Food geeks can easily get lost down the rabbit hole and lose a few hours on this site. The menus vary wildly in food, price point, and clientele, from Michelin-starred French restaurants to greasy spoons and Chinese take-out joints. My fascination, though, lies in the site’s dusty corners of the 1890s and earlier.

A menu from New York’s Everett House, circa 1865 (Photo: New York Public Library)

What’s interesting is that even though our palates are more …

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