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The History Of Fortune Cookies
Fortune cookies, like chop suey, are actually an American invention. They come from California, but the actual inventor, or the city in California that is the birthplace of the fortune cookie, is still subject to debate. The fortune cookie is definitely not Chinese, and might not be Chinese American either. Is it San Franciscan, Angelino, Japanese, or Chinese?
It is claimed by one version of the history of fortune cookies that in 1918 a Chinese immigrant named David Jung, who established the Hong Kong Noodle Company and was living in Los Angeles, first invented the fortune cookie. According to the story, he was worried about the poor people he saw in the area of his shop and made a cookie that he would pass out on the streets for free. Each of the cookies had a piece of paper inside that had an inspirational Bible scripture written on it. A Presbyterian minister wrote them for Jung.
Another version of fortune cookie history claims that Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese immigrant, invented the fortune cookie in San Francisco. Hagiwara worked as a gardener and was also the person who designs the renowned Japanese Tea Garden located in Golden Gate Park. Hagiwara was fired from his job by an anti-Japanese mayor around 1900, but a new mayor later reinstated him. He was very grateful to the people who had stood by him while he was in hardship, and in 1914 he created a cook with a thank you note included inside. He started passing out the cookies at the Japanese Tea Garden and started to serve them on a regular basis there. They were displayed at San Francisco’s world fair at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition in 1915.
There was a mock trial held in 1983 by the Court of Historical Review, a pseudo-legal body in San Fransisco, in order to determine what the fortune cookie’s origins are. (The Court in the past had ruled on other pressing matters like the Martini’s origins and the veracity of a quote from Mark Twain). No one was surprised when the judge (an actual real-life San Francisco-based federal judge) rule in favor of the city of San Francisco. One of the items of evidence was a fortune cookie with a message that read: “S.F. Judge ruling for L.A. Not A Smart Cookie.” Los Angeles denounced the ruling, which also was not surprising.
From Confucius to Smilies
Following World War II, fortune cookies started to become commonplace in Chinese restaurants. Traditionally desserts are not a part of Chinese cuisine. So the cookies were offered to Americans something that was familiar but also had an exotic flair to it.
There have been a couple of cases that reported people actually liking the flavor and texture of fortune cookies, however, most consider that the essence of these cookies is the fortune. Early fortunes either featured aphorisms from Ben Franklin, Aesop, or Confucious or Biblical saying. Fortunes later included sage, but hackneyed advice, jokes, smiley faces and recommended lottery numbers.
They have been used in campaigns by politicians, and there are also customized fortunes for birthday parties and weddings. The messages today are variously mystifying, bland, hectoring, feel-good, nonsensical, or cryptic.
Chopsticks to High-Tech
Fortune cookies were made by hand originally using chopsticks. The process was first automated in 1964 by Edward Louie from the Lotus Fortune Cookie Company in San Francisco when he created a machine that first folds the dough of the cookie and inserts the fortune inside. These days, the biggest fortune cookie manufacturer in the world, Wonton Food. Inc located in Long Island City, Queens has 60 million cookies shipped out on a monthly basis.