“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are” said Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of the well-known handbook entitled ‘Physiologie du goût,’ wrote in 1825.
Food tells a lot about a culture. So does menus.nypl, the website that has already transcribed 17,545 historical restaurant menus, dating from the 1850s to the present.
They were taken from the New York Public Library’s menu collection, housed in the Rare Book Division, which is made up of 45,000 items. As the menus tell us, it’s been many decades since Americans fell in love with pizza with mozzarella cheese, Parma raw ham, cream of tomato, spaghetti with tomato sauce (or Bolognaise sauce, which is a hystorical error), homemade cheese ravioli, risotto, and Sicilian cassata.
AMERICANS HAVE EATEN PASTA FOR CENTURIES
What’s on the Menu, is the online project launched in 2011, “is a tremendous educational resource that breathes life into our city’s most beloved restaurants and dishes,” said Rich Torrisi, named among Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs. Historians, chefs, novelists and everyday food enthusiasts can find Tony’s Italian Kitchen menu, for instance.
Located in 212-211 West 79 Street, the Italian cook used to serve specials seven days a week in 1955. There, New Yorkers had appetizers, soups, spaghetti, sea food, assorted frys, omelettes, sandwiches, and deserts.
The list of spaghetti is very long, from spaghetti with tomato sauce to spaghetti with meat sauce, as well as with marinara sauce, butter, oil and garlic, and mushrooms.
PARMESAN CHEESE HAS NO RIVAL ON THE US RESTAURANTS
Americans have eaten pasta for centuries. At the famous Grand Orient Restaurant, based in 7th Avenue in Ybor City, Florida, people found Mortadella, one of the most popular Italian cold cuts.
Served from 12:30 to 2:30 pm in New York in 1933, the Hotel Pierre buffet luncheon offered both omelets with Italian Parmesan cheese and ravioli, an Italian kind of filled pasta. For $1.50 clients had lunch on Fifth Avenue, overlooking Central Park, in this iconic hotel.
NO MAMMA LEONE’S, NO ITALIAN FOOD INTO THE AMERICAN MAINSTREAM
Professor of medieval history at Yale University, Paul Freedman produced a list of the 10 most influential restaurants. In his book ‘Ten Restaurants That Changed America’ he writes about Mamma Leone’s based in New York. “Enrico Caruso talked Luisa Leone into opening Mama’s in 1906 with 20 chairs in the family’s living room on West 34th Street,” Douglas Martin remembered us in the New York Times.
It has been some story. Elizabeth Taylor, in 1960, was denied entrance to a dining room because she was wearing slacks, and had to eat in the lounge. That said, “Mamma Leone’s helped bring Italian cuisine and culture into the American mainstream,” Mr. Freedman reveals in his book.
ITALIAN FOOD IS TO BE ENJOYED
Food is not only for eating. Food is to be enjoyed. That’s why the What’s on the Menu project is an opportunity to learn about what Americans ate and how they socialized over the past 167 years. Italian food played an important role in encouraging people to enjoy their time while they eat a meal.
Italian food played an important role in encouraging people to enjoy their time while they eat a meal.