Aaah, the fortune cookie. They either have embarrassing fake Confucian quotes or lottery numbers. Along with chop suey or crab rangoons, they’re usually the dishes where I can yell at my white friends about Chinese food that isn’t really Chinese.* “Oh, you know they don’t serve fortune cookies in China, right?” I would tell my friends with an air or snobbery. “They were actually thought up in a factory in San Francisco. They’re not even served in China!” And then my friends would try to smack the smug out of me.
Looks I was wrong, folks. While fortune cookies aren’t served in restaurants in China, this New York Times article reveals that a researcher has traced the fortune cookie’s origins to Japan:
Ms. Nakamachi, who has long had an interest in the history of sweets and snacks, saw her first fortune cookie in the 1980s in a New York City Chinese restaurant. At that time she was merely impressed with Chinese ingenuity, finding the cookies an amusing and clever idea.
It was only in the late 1990s, outside Kyoto near one of the most popular Shinto shrines in Japan, that she saw that familiar shape at a family bakery called Sohonke Hogyokudo.
“These were exactly like fortune cookies,” she said. “They were shaped exactly the same and there were fortunes.”
As to how the fortune cookie made the jump from Japanese food to Chinese food, it turns out that during the 20’s and 30’s, a number of Japanese immigrants in California owned chop suey restaurants, which served Americanized Chinese cuisine. Now that a lot of Japanese restaurants in the Bay Area are owned by Taiwanese people, I wonder if they’ll start serving pearl milk teas with bento boxes. With fortunes. That end with, “… in bed.”
* Make no mistake though; I DO love me some crab rangoons. I mean, seriously, Cream cheese! Who doesn’t love cream cheese? But while delicious, it’s sure as hell not authentic.