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History of the Fortune Cookie

November 3, 2014

The first record of fortune cookies comes from Japan in the early 1800’s, not from China, according to Rude Dude’s Book of Food, by Tim Myers. The Japanese flavored their treats with ginger and miso — not exactly the cookies we know — but they did squeeze written fortunes into the crease. The owner of San Francisco’s famous Japanese Tea Garden, Makoto Hagiwara, apparently introduced the concoction to America. Both Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans saw an opportunity, and soon both community’s shops and restaurants offered fortune cookies. Neither culture had a major dessert tradition, so fortune cookies helped feed the American sweet tooth, particularly as they evolved from the Japanese ginger and miso treat into the cookies we know today.

Fortune_cookieWhy do we see fortune cookies as Chinese, rather than Japanese? During World War II, America (shamefully) imprisoned much of its Japanese population, particularly in California — and that included Makoto Hagiwara. With Japanese-American businesses closed, Chinese-Americans cornered the fortune cookie market, and the rest of the country came to identify them with Chinese food.

The people of China itself don’t eat fortune cookies. In fact, one marketer in Hong Kong tried to sell them as “genuine American fortune cookies,” but the Chinese just didn’t bite.

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Photo: Fortune Cookie.jpg, uploaded by Mu — provided through Wikimedia Commons

© 2014 by David W. Tollen. All rights reserved.

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