Monkey dish

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Fri Aug 17 13:18:19 UTC 2001

>Among the cooks and waitrons of State College, PA (c. 1990) a 'monkey
>dish' or 'monkey bowl' was a small, 'conical' bowl similar in shape to a
>typical soup bowl, but with a capacity of only about 4 oz.  They were
>made of the same type of ceramic as the other dishes used by the
>restaurants.  We didn't use the term to refer to the cylindrical bowls
>or bowls made of special material, just these miniature replicas of
>larger bowls.  They were most often used to serve small side dishes or
>as containers to nuke prepared ingredients for dishes (like steak
>salads) in which some of the ingredients were hot and some were cold.

That's the usual understanding. However, at least two individuals in Usenet
discussions have equated "monkey dish" to "ramekin" (at least one person
disagreed). I think if one delivered -- say -- some extra tartar sauce or a
side order of coleslaw in a 'conical' bowl at Restaurant A, and if one had
previously worked at Restaurant B which used a cylindrical 'ramekin' for
the same applications, one might have referred to the 'ramekin' as a
"monkey dish" -- or does everybody except me see "ramekin" as a common
well-known word? -- and one might transfer this terminology to whatever
bowl was current in the same application.

Two more conjectures on the etymology, for those who don't like my first

(1) [from Usenet] If you put two monkey dishes rim-to-rim, the pair
resembles a [cartoon] monkey's mouth;

(2) [from me, as a last resort] In a well-known 'gross story' ("urban
legend"?) -- popularized in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" but
well-known in the 1960's or earlier -- Oriental gourmets consume the brain
of a recently living monkey, either from the head itself or from the
skull-top which has been chiseled off ... to make a small bowl: a "monkey

-- Doug Wilson

More information about the Ads-l mailing list