What would be a good Latin word for "menu" in the sense of a list of foods and drinks in a restaurant? My dictionary suggests index ciborum, and another option would be to replace index with tabula. Is there some widespread translation that would be a good choice? I'm not sure if my dictionary offers and ad hoc translation or something that is actually in use. Bonus points a classical or other early expression for a menu.

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    English didn't have the word menu before 1836. Ainsworth Eng.-Lat. (1780), suggests tabula cibariorum. 'Menu' is a diminutive, so perhaps tabella (a little page) cibariorum (of various foods).' Ainsworth Lat.-Eng. doesn't confirm. In fact tabula and tabella could be biscuits, or serving dishes, or the bill to be paid.
    – Hugh
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 2:37

1 Answer 1


I think that both index and tabula ciborum work as calques but I can’t find any evidence for either in classical sources. Indeed, I can’t find any information about whether there even were menus at tabernae/popinae/cauponae. My understanding is that the foods were simply on display.

I also can’t find any evidence for tabella cibariorum but I did find a wonderful parallel in Greek: γραμματειδιον, also a diminutive, meaning little writing tablet. Moreover, it is clearly being used to describe a menu, or at the least, a list of the food to be served, albeit at a dinner party:

Οτι εθος ην εν τοις δειπνοις τῳ εστιατορι κατακλιθεντι προδιδοσθαι γραμματειδιον τι περιεχον των παρεσκευασμενων, εφ ῳ ειδεναι ο τι μελλει οψον φερειν ο μαγειρος.

It was the custom at dinner parties for the host to be offered a little writing tablet with a list of the foods prepared when he lay down, so that he would know what food the cook was going to bring in.

Athenaeus, The Learned Banqueters, 2.49d (please excuse the lack of accents and breathings – it just takes too long to type them all in!)

My Latin suggestion is also from the dinner-party scene: fercula. A ferculum was a tray used for carrying things, including meals and the plural, fercula, became a metonym for courses (of a meal).

Fercula nunc audi …

Now listen to the courses [I’m going to serve] …

Juvenal, Satires, 11.64


multaque de magna superessent fercula cena

and many courses left over from the great dinner

Horace, Satires, 2.6.24

Martial, complaining about his host at a dinner party who recited his own poems …

… dum fercula prima morantur

… while the first course awaits

Martial, Epigrams, 3.50.5


sequens ferculum fuit scriblita frigida

the next course was a cold tart

Petronius, Satyricon, 66


cenam ternis ferculis aut cum abundantissime senis praebebat

he served dinner with three courses or six at his most lavish

Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars: Augustus, LXXIV

I think fercula/courses could stand alone for “menu”. Or you could follow the Greek precedent and combine it with tabella to give tabella ferculorum/a little tablet of courses.

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    English borrowed the French menu and gave it a more specific meaning; you might do the same and take grammātīdium, -ī from the Greek.
    – Draconis
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 23:53

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