A Few Theories on the Term Monkey Dish

Chances are you haven’t heard of a monkey dish unless you work at a zoo or in a professional kitchen – perhaps there is a connection there, but I digress. The kitchen is in fact full of oddly named items and we are out to investigate how these names came to be. Follow along with this series as we wander through back of house operations to better understand the wild world of professional foodservice lingo.

To begin, a monkey dish looks like this:

Restaurant Monkey Dish

But the origin of the name isn’t quite as certain. This small vessel has been quite a mystery for some time. Here are a few of the theories that have been proposed:

1. According to a few chefs posting to one of our favorite food forums, Chef Talk, the dish got its name from the vessel an organ grinder’s monkey would use to collect tips while combing the crowds.

2. The folks over at Tuxton China have a different theory. They proposed that the name actually comes from the small dish that royalty would ask their servants to use to test their food for poison. They’d place the questionable food in a tiny dish for a monkey to try and if it lived, they would then sit down to dine.

3. FoodReference.com has a few theories on this topic. Perhaps the most interesting is the idea that these small dishes got their name from bowls that were once made from monkey’s skulls in exotic locations across the world.

Remember, this is not a monkey dish

Dishes relating to monkeys

Do you have a theory for where the name came from? Share your theory here and perhaps we’ll finally put this mystery to rest. Check back soon for our exploration of the Cornelius keg.

Chelsea B. Sanz
Chelsea B. Sanz

Chelsea Sanz has lived in East Tennessee since her family moved here from South Florida just before she started high school. While she initially begrudged her new home state, she eventually realized she had come to not only love it, but to “bleed orange” as University of Tennessee Volunteers fans here like to say. She and her boyfriend Hunter, a trail worker for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, enjoy exploring the nation’s most visited national park and coming up with their own farm-to-table recipes.

  1. November 04, 2015 at 9:29 pm, Kevin Bown said:

    If you look at your reflection in the bottom of a monkey dish you will see your face resembles the face of a monkey


  2. July 16, 2016 at 12:40 pm, Patrick Lowery said:

    If you cup the little green bowl over your mouth, the rounded shape makes you look like a monkey.