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History of the Fortune Cookie
Feel American, Have A Fortune Cookie
By Dan Hanlon
America is home to the apple pie, the Fourth of July, and fortune cookies. Yeah, you read that right. When thinking of fortune cookies most people would think of China, but in fact, America is where they were invented and the only place where they are popular. There is much debate as to exactly who introduced the fortune cookie to The United States, but it seems like everyone wants to claim the cookie that very few people eat as their own. The Chinese want to claim they invented the cookie but so do the Japanese, much like San Francisco wants to claim that it’s the birthplace of the cookie but so does Los Angeles. We may never know the true story of the fortune cookies’ origins, but take solace in the fact that heated debates about cookies are fun.
If you want to join in on the greatest debate about cookies since “What’s the greatest Girl Scout cookie?” you have to know the two differing stories of how the fortune cookie came to America. Story number one is that a Chinese immigrant and founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Company named David Chung invented the cookie in 1918. After becoming concerned about poor people in his area, Chung made his cookies filled with inspirational messages and passed them out to poor people walking by his shop in Los Angeles. The second story is that a Japanese immigrant living in San Francisco named Makoto Hagiwara invented the fortune cookie. An anti-Japanese mayor fired Hagiwara from his gardening job at the famous Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. He was later reinstated by a different mayor, which led him to invent the cookie as a thanks. In 1914 Hagiwara filled the cookies with thank you notes and passed them out to the people that stood by him after his firing.
No matter whom you believe invented the fortune cookie or where they invented it, it’s a fact that the cookies soon became very popular. Chinese and Japanese cultures didn’t often feature desserts, so the cookie became a way for Americans to have something sweet to end their foreign meal with. Fortune cookies were originally popular in Japanese restaurants, but they became more popular in Chinese restaurants during World War II. One explanation for this is that when Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps it allowed Chinese Americans to take over the making of fortune cookies. As Chinese food became more popular, the fortune cookie became synonymous with the Chinese. So not only did we force the Japanese to live in internment camps but we also sat by and allowed the Chinese to steal the recipe and take all of the credit. Or so the Japanese would have us believe, it all comes back to that debate of who invented it.
Up until the 1960s, fortune cookies were made by hand using chopsticks. That labor came to an end when Edward Louie of Lotus Fortune Cookie Company created a machine that folds the dough and inserts the fortune into the cookie that millions of Americans will receive after eating too much Chinese food. Even more recently, fortune cookies became customizable. People can now go online to write whatever they want the fortune to say so they can give it as a gift, or choose from absurd flavors like grape fortune cookies, or even a chocolate dipped and sprinkled fortune cookie. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ll stick to taking one bite of the regular cookie and moving on to reading the un-customizable fortune that was inside.
To those people debating the fortune cookies’ beginnings, the cookie is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, but to most it’s just a piece of paper wrapped in a cookie. Of the 3 billion fortune cookies produced each year, the majority is consumed in America. Most of its consumers don’t even know that the cookie is made in America by companies like Wonton Food in Brooklyn, New York or Peking Noodle in Los Angeles, California. So this July 4th, eat a fortune cookie in celebration of its American history and the fact that you know about it.
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