U of T’s Scarborough Campus’ Culinaria Research Centre has acquired the world’s largest collection of Chinese restaurant menus – 10,000 of them.
The culinary cultural artifacts were acquired over 30 years by New Yorker Harvey Spiller – earning him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Dating from 1910, the menus are a fascinating record of how long Chinese food has been a staple of North American cuisine. Did you know that before 1834, dishes and prices were written on chalkboards or recited by waiters? Then Delmonico’s in New York became the first restaurant to print menus.
But the collection’s value isn’t purely historical – they’re visually dynamic as well.
According to Professor Daniel Bender, director of the Culinaria Research Centre, Spiller chose UTSC for his menu collection partly because of the location, but also because UTSC plans to make the scholarly collection public. Victoria Owens, chief librarian of the UTSC archives, said the library hopes to share the menus online in the near future.
“Some of them are fragile, some of them are old, some of them have been used, some of the menus were once placemats and some of the menus you can see the food stains and [the way] people have handled them,” Owens said. “We do have to preserve them, and that’s one of the ways of making them widely accessible too, [through] digitization.”
Menu collecting is officially a thing (just check out eBay) and we can’t think of a more worthwhile hobby.