New York Public Library’s Fantastic Data

As you know, my passions in life are food and food. This blogpost is therefore about the taxonomy of window panes.

Sorry. This post is about FOOD! NYPL made a heap of information about New York food open access here; it’s the dataset I used to train my crazy twitter bot (@CrazyPoshCook), and you can find more examples of the bot’s output at the end of this post.

In their crowd-driven project, NYPL numerized data about more than 17 000 menus from NY restaurants between 1851 and 2012. There are regular menus, menus for special events, cruise menus… I delved into the data because I’m a serious scientist, not at all because I was hungry and bored. Here we go!

I first looked at which dish appeared more often in New York’s restaurants. To the surprise of no one, the most common menu item is… Coffee, with 8487 apparitions! In second position comes Tea (4769), then more surprisingly, Celery (4247), Olives (4554) and Radish (3349). NY people, you’re officially weird. The followers are somewhat more expected: mashed potatoes, milk, and boiled potatoes. Wait, who orders plain milk at a restaurant??


There are lots of items that appear only once, mostly dishes with really long names. Some dishes have a negative number of citations (that’s human error), like the awesome “Clam Fry (with Bacon)” from a 1914 menu (“-4” citations!).

The same kind of error popped up when I looked for the dish with the shortest name: it seems to be the mysteriously named “&”, which appeared on 4 different menus in 1901.
The dish with the longest “name” is a long ramble about tea that manages to include references to Elizabeth II and Lewis Caroll:

Afternoon Tea- A Great British Tradition- Tea, the most universally consumed of all drinks, is especially popular in Britain where the annual consumption is something in the region of 512 million cups. W. E. Gladstone observed “If you are cold, tea will warm you- if you are heated, it will cool you- if you are depressed, it will cheer you- if you are excited, it will calm you.” First brought to England c. 1559 by Giambattista Rusmusio, tea did not evolve into an afternoon meal until the end of the 18th century. Anna, Duchess of Bedford, invented afternoon tea to fill the long gap between early lunch and dinner which bored many house parties. It became a meal surrounded by etiquette and customs, delicate china, silver, cake stands and doilies- a time when friend and family meet. Famous tea parties include Mad Hatter’s (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll 1865), the Boston Tea Party, 1773, and not forgetting HM Queen Elizabeth II’s annual garden parties at Buckingham Palace. The Duke of Wellington declared that “Tea cleared my head and left no misapprehensions.” He was right- tea contains small amounts of two B vitamins, and has no calories, artificial flavourings or colourings. It is said to cure gout, apoplexy, epilepsy, gall stones and sleepiness, and one’s longevity is assured. “Thank God for Tea! What would the world do without tea?”- Sydney Smith

But that’s cheating – there’s nothing about the actual tea they serve you. So the real laureate is the famous Tour d’Argent of Paris, with this lengthy but delicious-sounding single dish from 1987:

Fresh Water Prawn Rampant, Baby White Fish, with Timbal of Transylvanian Macadamia Nuts, Sea Scallops, Two Gunkan Rolls of American Sturgeon and Salmon Caviars, served on Wasabi Sauce Rouille- The fresh water prawn is from an American based farm and is split and baked in a hot rouille sauce. One prawn is served along side the baked white fish. It is served under a timbal made with sea scallops and alongside two Chinese rice rolls filled with two caviars. Rouille is similar to a hot Hollandaise. The sauce is made with wasabi powder and cream.

Price unknown. Oh gods. While we’re on the subject, let’s have a look at the priciest items. Ordering by highest “highest_price” gave ludicrous results (a $2550 grape fruit… Is it from the Hesperides’ Garden?!?) so I ordered the data by highest “lowest_price” instead. The winner is some “Chicken Liver Omelette”, at $1035! Yes, I checked the currency. Here are the 10 priciest dishes:


Lots of champagne, and a… ham sandwich?

Next I liked at old dishes. The oldest entries are from 1851, but most of them appeared only once, so instead I looked for old dishes that lasted for more than a year. I thought they would be more representative of what food was common at the time:

We have some weird ones! My favorite is the stale bread. Next I wondered what were the dishes that had the longest lifespan:

Super boring, but those are some pretty expensive peaches 0_0
I had to Google “Charles Heidsieck”. It’s champagne. Oh, and mashed potatoes can cost you more if you ask it with a capital P.
The menus with the most gigantic number of dishes all come from “Waldof Astoria”, with more than 1000 dishes to choose from for a single occasion! Here is what a page looks like:



So that’s some tidbits about the dataset I used. The bot was super fun to train, here are some screenshots that made me cry laughing (because I’m a bit crazy too I guess).

See you next time!

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