A Sweet Surprise Awaits You
On the night of March 30, 2005, the Powerball jackpot was 25 million dollars. The grand prize winner was in Tennessee, but all over the United States,one hundred and ten
Lottery officials were flustered, unsure if there was a computer glitch or a hack in the system, but when they asked the winners how they picked their numbers each had the same response:from a fortune cookie.
What we call Chinese food (including the fortune-filled cookies) has become an integral part of the American culture and cuisine, with a complex history that dates back to the 19th Century.
Around the 1850s, new Chinese immigrants were seen as a threat to jobs occupied by American males such as mining, farming and manual labor. After a wave of anti-Chinese violence, Chinese immigrants began to work in laundries and restaurants: industries traditionally associated with women’s work.
“Chinese” restaurants began to appear, but with new dishes designed to appeal to an Americans who tend to want foods that are sweet and fried. The most famous of these faux-Chinese recipies is Chop suey, which translates roughly as ‘odds and ends.’ Chop Suey is as American as apple pie, which leads us to another essential ingredient for an American culinary audience: dessert.
The fortune cookie appeared in the United States in the 1920s, but it was not imported from China. Still, many contemporary cookies and their fortunes are made by Chinese Americans.
Still, neither fortunes nor cookies are Chinese in origin. The woodblock print above evidences the cookie’s ties to Japan. Such evidence is bolstered by memories of Japanese Americans like
Author and journalist Jennifer 8. Lee interviewed Osaki and others, and even took a trip to ashinto shrine outside Kyoto, Japan in order to further investigate the Japanese origins of contemporary fortune cookies.
What she found was a larger, darker and less-sweet ancestor to the American fortune cookie. Yet if these snacks have such clear Japanese heritage, why do we eat fortunes with Chinese food rather than at sushi restaurants?
Like the Chinese immigrants before them, many Japanese immigrants to the United States chose to make their living in the food industry. The Japanese also opted to cater to American tastes, and Japanese families frequently owned, operated, and otherwise worked in (American-style) Chinese restaurants, and ultimately introduced Americanized fortune cookies into the mix.
During World War II, many Japanese Americans weresent to concentration camps, forced to leave businesses behind. After a four-year period, the concentration camps, closed, and the cultural source of fortunate cookies was obscured and a pervasive association had spread: fortune cookies were henceforth broadly thought of as Chinese.
The fortune cookie has become a global phenomenon, found in countries around the world. Except in China.They still don’t eat fortune cookies in China.
Producer Avery Trufelman spoke with Jennifer 8 Lee, author of; Steven Yang, founder of The Fortune Cookie ChroniclesYang’s Fortunes Incorporated in San Francisco; Ming Louie, son of thecreator of the Fortune Cookie Machine;and Sally Osaki, a Japanese American born and raised in California, who has donesignificant amount of fortune cookie research herselfand recommends readingInfamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese-American Internment in World War II.