What’s on the menu? Strawberries and cream – 15¢ only !

Mahabaleshwar and strawberries go hand in hand, mostly the hands of tourists flocking this town in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra. Few memories remain of my first visit to the plateau, which was more than a decade ago, but the one that does is of my father being rather gluttonous with the fresh strawberry cream servings! In all fairness, they were to die for. And so, when my husband and I planned a more recent visit to the town, the greedy berries and cream climbed to the top of my checklist.

“80 rupees” said the person at the counter. Did I look like a fool to him? I righteously stomped off to a stall a few blocks away. “80 rupees” came the echo. It is surprising how someone who looks so haggard and weak at one moment can appear so shrewd and businesslike the very next. I was almost certain he had a BMW hiding somewhere behind his 5 by 5 feet stall. “OK” I said at the cost of committing one of the seven deadly sins, gluttony via laute – which in Latin is the sin of eating too expensively! Now, had I been born at the end of the 19th century, I could have feasted on those delicious cream topped berries and gone straight to heaven both figuratively and literally, for in 1901, the A.M. Sweet & Son Restaurant in New York served them for only 15¢ ! And how do I know this? Well because it’s on the menu!

“What’s on the menu?”, a project by the New York Public Library is now converting its historical restaurant menu collection into a computer friendly format. They have about forty thousand of these historical menus – a data analyst’s dream, a data entry operators’s nightmare! But before you pity the later, you ought to know that that person is you! “What’s on the menu?” requires regular people like you and me to help transcribe these menus by typing in the dishes that appear on the picture of a menu card, one dish at a time. Though the task is a tad repetitive, it is definitely entertaining. When the project completes and with the magic of data mining there would be so many new things to learn about the way we ate. There are interesting things you notice even while examining a single menu, like “French Asparagus” was one of the few items that cost $1 when everything else was only around 25-50¢. Oh surely they couldn’t taste better than those strawberries!

Help What’s on the menu by visiting http://menus.nypl.org/ and relishing a few dishes yourself :)