The Fortune Cookie’s Fortune
What’s better than a great meal? Dessert. And better than dessert? Dessert with a side of destiny.
That’s right. I’m talking about the infamous fortune cookie. These tasty treats have completed Chinese-food meals in America and around the world for decades. Except in China, oddly enough. And there’s a reason for this. The fortune cookie isn’t actually Chinese.
According to an article by the International Herald Tribune, the fortune cookie comes (“almost certainly”) from Japan. Yasuko Nakamachi, a dedicated student researching at Japan’s National Diet Library, has found compelling evidence that traces the cookie’s origins to Japan, including an 1878 book (Moshiogusa Kinsei Kidan) about an apprentice in a senbei store (essentially, a bakery). In the book, the apprentice is making tsujiura senbei, or “fortune crackers.” So, these “crackers” appeared in Japan almost 30 years before Japanese and Chinese immigrants in California claimed to have invented them. Nakamachi has traced the cookie’s U.S. roots to between 1907-1914, or even earlier:
Prior to World War II, the history is murky. A number of immigrant families in California, mostly Japanese, have laid claim to introducing or popularizing the fortune cookie. Among them are the descendants of Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese immigrant who oversaw the Japanese Tea Garden built in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in the 1890s. Visitors to the garden were served fortune cookies made by a San Francisco bakery, Benkyodo.
…Nakamachi is still unsure how exactly fortune cookies made the jump to Chinese restaurants. But during the 1920s and 1930s, many Japanese immigrants in California owned chop suey restaurants, which served Americanized Chinese cuisine. The Umeya bakery distributed fortune cookies to well over 100 such restaurants in southern and central California.
We won’t explain the entire history of the fortune cookie here, but the IHT article is definitely worth a read.
Photo: Agus Sutanto via Flickr
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