Over 3 billion fortune cookies are made each year in the United States. Most of them are purchased by Chinese restaurants. At the end of their meal, Americans look forward to breaking open their Chinese fortune cookie and reading what is written on the rectangular piece of paper that is hidden inside. Were these fun cookies invented in China? Was there really a court case about what city in California can boast they introduced America to this cookie? How do they get the piece of paper in the cookies? Who writes the fortunes? Keep reading to find out.
One story says that the fortune cookie was first made in Kyoto, Japan. A Japanese immigrant settled in San Francisco. California, in the early 1900s and opened the Golden Gate Park’s Japanese Tea Garden. Here hot tea and cookies containing a saying were served to the Americans. Another story confirms the cookie was first made in Kyoto, Japan, but was introduced in America in 1918 by the Hong Kong Noodle Company located in Los Angeles, California. These two cities had an ongoing battle, both claiming to have brought the fortune cookie across the Pacific Ocean. In 1983, they took it to the San Francisco’s Court of Historical Review which ruled in favor of San Francisco.
If fortune cookies originated in Japan and were introduced in America by a Japanese immigrant, why do we call them Chinese fortune cookies? During WWII, Japanese immigrants found themselves living in internment camps. Americans could not get fortune cookies. The Chinese businessmen recognized a need and began making the cookie with the paper message inside. They sold them to Chinese restaurants who served them at the end of a meal just like they do today.
Originally fortune cookies were made one at a time using a hand skillet mold that can be compared to a waffle maker today. Many of the molds had engraved initials or logos on them making the cookies decorative. An example is a mold with Mount Fuji on it.
Today, the cookies are mass produced using machines. They mix the dough, print the messages, bake and cut the dough, drop the printed message in the center of each dough disc, and mold the dough into a dimpled formed cookie.
Writing the fortune, message, proverb, and philosophical sayings are still created by living, breathing, and creative people. There are some basic rules that the writers must follow. Because of the size of the paper, the message needs to be 11 words or less, it needs to be positive, and it needs to contain a thought or observation that is appropriate to the masses. Wonton Food, Inc., had one writer until 1995. The company recycled his sayings until, afraid people would get the same message too often, they hired a new writer.
Those who visit China will only be served a fortune cookie if the restaurant caters to tourists. A restaurant frequented by locals does not serve them.
Maybe they should really be called American fortune cookies!