In Spring 2011, the New York Public Library (NYPL) launched one of the largest culinary data projects of all time: What's on the Menu?. The NYPL maintains one of the world's largest menu collections (around 45,000 menus dating back to the 1840s). The project aims to ease searching through this massive dataset. In simplifying menu search, What's on the Menu launched the first NYPL public API:
"There's a lot of data behind The New York Public Library's What's On The Menu?, and here's your chance to explore it....[I]f you're looking to do powerful analysis of historical menu data, this is the tool for you."
In less than two years, the project has transcribed over 1.1 million recipes from over 16,000 menus. Historians, Chefs, novelists, food enthusiasts, and others find great value in the project and many have dedicated time to its ongoing efforts. Yale University's Paul Freedman praised:
"This archive has become tremendously important as there is nothing nearly as large, nor anything that has so much from the mid‐nineteenth century when restaurants were first established in the U.S. How people socialized, what they ate, how things change over time and the actual experience of people living in the United States in the past 170 years can be made vividly alive with these materials.”
The API uses REST protocol and returns calls in a JSON or XML data format. Developers can search for menu data by calling specific recipes or menus. In addition to returning recipes, the API produces prices and dates. Those interested can learn more at the Github page.
What's on the Menu? constitutes an ambitious project that revolves around the source that drives us all on a daily basis: Food. Whether you are a historian looking for a hidden gem from our past, or a chef aspiring to rekindle lost recipes, What's on the Menu? should bode you well as you journey.