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 ...
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?
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