Menus and Restaurant Dining

Through history, menus have been saved as souvenirs of memorable meals and dining experiences, preserved records of the social and cultural history of their time. As such, menus are invaluable research tools and serve a variety of purposes for culinary, cultural and art historians, as well as anyone interested in food ephemera more broadly. From eBooks and exclusive articles, to brand new digitised collections of illustrated menus, this carefully curated Featured Content brings together the wealth of material available through Bloomsbury Food Library, and provides a crucial gateway into this fascinating research topic.

Illustrated Menu Collection

As historical artefacts, menus record a wealth of information about the customs, cultures and peoples of their time. Bloomsbury Food Library provides access to a unique collection of illustrated ephemera that have been digitised and made available to explore from anywhere in the world. This collection of 27 menus from the turn of the nineteenth century provides an invaluable window into the social, cultural and economic history of eating and dining in Europe. Accompanied by an exclusive new introductory article by culinary historian Professor Nathalie Cooke, this exquisite collection is an invaluable research tool for culinary and social historians, and scholars of food ephemera. Click here to read more and discover this illustrated menu collection.

Exclusive Introduction to Illustrated Menus

What is a menu? What information does it contain? What does it do? Answers to these three seemingly simple questions begin to unlock ways in which menus convey meaning to the diners of their day as well as to readers and scholars of later generations. Professor Nathalie Cooke delves into the Bloomsbury Food Library’s illustrated menu collection and explores these crucial questions in a brand new introductory article. Through in-depth analysis of particular menus from the collection, a thorough overview of key debates in the field, and an extensive bibliography to guide further research, Professor Cooke provides a fundamental research tool to support students, researchers and instructors seeking to learn more about the study of food menus and the wealth of historical, cultural, and social knowledge they have to offer.

Anthropology on the Menu

While anthropologists have long recognized the importance of food to our social relations and cultural worlds, it is only within the past fifty years or so that it has become a focus of study within the discipline. Scholars approach the restaurant as a key site of cultural interaction and transformation. The restaurant, and its cuisine in particular, does not simply reflect meaning or symbolize identity. Instead, restaurants and their menus are understood as active agents in the creation and recreation of meaning. In other words, they approached as a site of culinary, cultural, and political agency and negotiation. Click here to read a chapter from Food and Museums and explore this fundamental relationship within a museum environment.

Menu from the Mishkenot Sha'ananim Restaurant

Bloomsbury Food Library provides access to an extensive range of digitised images from leading museums and galleries such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Archives, offering students and instructors innovative ways to research food in context and explore these invaluable museum objects in exquisite detail. This lunch and dinner menu from the Mishkenot Sha'ananim Restaurant in Israel, licensed from the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University, lists food items in both Hebrew and English. The menu is illustrated with art attributed to N. Bezem, and also features additional portraits and dated autographs of notable guests.

Dining Cultures in Early-modern Inns

Early-modern inns, just like restaurants, were heterogeneous establishments, catering for an increasingly complex society with many different needs and tastes. The sources reveal great variety in dining arrangements and culinary standards, including highly sophisticated provision, even outside of major towns. Inns responded to changing fashions, and many offered options like room service, separate dining parlours and a range of set menus or à la carte selection besides the regular table d’hôte. In this chapter from Eating Out in Europe, Beat Kümin explores surviving ‘menu books’ and other dining ephemera to reassesses the growth of consumer power in European public houses, which have hitherto attracted only cursory attention.

Cover of Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia: Volume 1: Africa and the Middle East

Author in Focus - Ken Albala

Professor of History at the University of the Pacific and chair of the Food Studies MA program in San Francisco, Ken Albala is a well-known voice in the field of food history. A member of the Bloomsbury Food Library’s own Editorial Advisory Board, Albala has written or edited 25 books in the field of food studies. Click here to discover the extensive list of works by Ken Albala , which are made digitally available through the Bloomsbury Food Library.

Albala’s award-winning Beans: A History tells the untold story of the bean, the staple food cultivated by humans for over 10,000 years. From Pythagoras’ notion that the bean hosted a human soul to St. Jerome’s indictment against bean-eating in convents (because they “tickle the genitals”), to current research into the deadly toxins contained in the most commonly eaten beans, Albala takes the reader on a fascinating journey across cuisines and cultures.

Albala is the editor of a number of leading series, such as A Cultural History of Food in the Renaissance, which presents an overview of the period with essays from leading scholars, and the ground breaking Food Cultures of the World, which reveals how much we can learn about a different culture from its food choices, food preparation rituals, and eating habits. In this comprehensive four-volume reference work, Albala and a team of dedicated food scholars cover Africa and the Middle East, the Americas, Asia and Oceania, and Europe to track systematically through a spread of countries in each of these regions.