What Are Monkey Dishes?

The foodservice industry includes countless terms and phrases that most people might not be familiar with. One such term is "monkey dish." Based on the name, you might think that monkey dishes are plates that are shaped like or even intended to serve monkeys. In truth, the concept of a monkey dish is much simpler, and you have almost certainly used one before without even realizing it. Below, we’ll investigate what a monkey dish is, how they earned their name, and what differentiates them from ramekins.

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What Is a Monkey Dish?

A monkey dish, also called a monkey bowl or monkey plate, is a small bowl with a flat bottom that serves a variety of uses. Monkey dishes can be found in many colors and styles and are used in most restaurants, diners, cafeterias, and bistros across the globe.

What Is a Monkey Dish Used For?

Due to their small size and simple design, monkey dishes are perfect for a number of different uses. Whether you're using them in the kitchen or as part of a table setting, these versatile dishes are a valuable addition to any collection of dinnerware. Below, we've listed some of their most common uses:

  • Serving sauces and condiments that accompany a main dish
  • Serving smaller dishes and appetizers like applesauce and hummus
  • Holding smaller ingredients or toppings, such as fruits, nuts, and other small foods

Why Is It Called a Monkey Dish?

monkey dish with blueberries and sliced strawberries on wooden table

Although monkey dishes can be found in restaurants around the world, it’s difficult to determine exactly how they got their name. There isn't a conclusive answer as to where the name comes from, but there are many interesting stories regarding its origin. Here are three of the most popular theories that attempt to explain how monkey dishes got their unique name:

  1. Kept by street performers: Some say that the name came from organ grinders in the mid-1800s. Organ grinders were street performers that would play music using a barrel organ. It was common for organ grinders to have pet monkeys that would dance to the music and collect tips from people passing by. Some people theorize that these dishes are called "monkey dishes" because they resemble the bowls that the monkeys would use to collect money.
  2. Made from monkey bones: Another theory states that monkey dishes were originally made from the skulls of monkeys, which gave the pieces their name.
  3. Used to test for poison: Hundreds of years ago, kings and queens would have monkeys test their food to see if it was poisoned. A piece of each food would be given to the monkey in a small bowl to taste test, hence the name.

Monkey Dish vs. Ramekin

Monkey dishes are similar to ramekins, but there are a few key distinctions. Here are some of the differences between monkey dishes:

  • Depth: Typically, ramekins have higher walls on the side and are deeper than monkey dishes.
  • Width: In most cases, monkey dishes feature a design that is flatter and wider than ramekins.
  • Oven Use: Ramekins can be used in the oven, but monkey dishes are meant only for serving food.

Despite the mystery surrounding their origins and the fact that many people use them without knowing, monkey dishes have grown to become a useful and popular piece of dinnerware. Whether you’re serving small appetizers, distributing sauces, or organizing condiments in an eye-catching manner, monkey dishes are an essential product to have on hand.

Posted in: Product Spotlights|By Richard Traylor
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