Fortune cookies are from Japan?

iStockphoto.com For some reason, my mom always told me that fortune cookies were invented by Jews from Brooklyn. I have no idea where she got that from. And it turns out she was wrong. But her main point was right: that fortune cookies were not Chinese, never were Chinese, and never would be. Go to ...

597062_fortunecookie_05.jpg
597062_fortunecookie_05.jpg

iStockphoto.com

For some reason, my mom always told me that fortune cookies were invented by Jews from Brooklyn. I have no idea where she got that from. And it turns out she was wrong. But her main point was right: that fortune cookies were not Chinese, never were Chinese, and never would be. Go to China, and what's for dessert? Fruit! Go to Taiwan, and what's for dessert? More fruit! Fortune cookies are a pure American invention. They caught on in Chinese-American restaurants. But they aren't Asian.

Or are they? It turns out that fortune cookies have their roots in Japan, not China. According to the New York Times's Jennifer 8. Lee (who, natch, has a book coming out in March, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, about Chinese Americans and food), a Japanese scholar named Yasuko Nakamachi has dug up evidence that fortune cookie-shaped biscuits were crafted by hand near a temple in Kyoto as early as 1878. They made their first appearance in California in the early 1900s, possibly brought over by Japanese immigrants, and then were co-opted by Chinese immigrants. Nakamachi suspects that it happened because Japanese immigrants often owned Chinese "chop suey" (also American, not Chinese) restaurants in the United States during the first part of the 20th century. Chinese owners then took over the restaurants when the Japanese were rounded up and placed in internment camps during WWII. It wasn't until the 1950s that they became popular throughout the United States, after cookie-makers learned how to mass-produce them.

iStockphoto.com

For some reason, my mom always told me that fortune cookies were invented by Jews from Brooklyn. I have no idea where she got that from. And it turns out she was wrong. But her main point was right: that fortune cookies were not Chinese, never were Chinese, and never would be. Go to China, and what’s for dessert? Fruit! Go to Taiwan, and what’s for dessert? More fruit! Fortune cookies are a pure American invention. They caught on in Chinese-American restaurants. But they aren’t Asian.

Or are they? It turns out that fortune cookies have their roots in Japan, not China. According to the New York Times‘s Jennifer 8. Lee (who, natch, has a book coming out in March, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, about Chinese Americans and food), a Japanese scholar named Yasuko Nakamachi has dug up evidence that fortune cookie-shaped biscuits were crafted by hand near a temple in Kyoto as early as 1878. They made their first appearance in California in the early 1900s, possibly brought over by Japanese immigrants, and then were co-opted by Chinese immigrants. Nakamachi suspects that it happened because Japanese immigrants often owned Chinese “chop suey” (also American, not Chinese) restaurants in the United States during the first part of the 20th century. Chinese owners then took over the restaurants when the Japanese were rounded up and placed in internment camps during WWII. It wasn’t until the 1950s that they became popular throughout the United States, after cookie-makers learned how to mass-produce them.

The funny thing is, in discussions of inter-Asian rivalry, many Chinese often complain that elements of Japanese and Korean culture actually stem from China, if you go back far enough. Now we’ve got a modern Chinese-American food that actually stems from Japan. But the most important question for Nakamachi and Lee is: Who decided it would be fun to tack on the words “in bed” to the end of every fortune?

Christine Y. Chen is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.