Fortune Cookies

These bow-shaped, crispy, sugar cookies served in most Chinese restaurants as the last impression of a Chinese meal have more than one story of origination.

The Chinese believe the fortune cookie is a modern Chinese American interpretation of the moon cake. Legend has it that moon cakes were used in the 14th century as a means of significant communication. In their efforts to stave off the Mongols, Chinese soldiers camouflaged as monks allegedly communicated strategies by stuffing messages into mooncakes. For some, the idea of message-stuffed pastry has supposedly endured through ages.

Fortune cookies have not been known to originate in America for most people. A very popular story dates back to 1918 when, in Los Angeles, founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Co., David Jung, invented the fortune cookie as a tasty treat and encouraging word for unemployed men who gathered on the streets. Some people assert the cookie was more likely invented as a gimmick for Jung’s noodle business than as an icon of social concern.

Revolutionizing the process of forming fortune cookies, which was previously created awkwardly with chopsticks, Edward Louie invented a folding machine for his Lotus Fortune Cookie Company, which is still in existence today in San Francisco.

Today, fortune cookies mass produced and distributed all over the world. Most popular in the United States, the cookies continue to lift spirits with promises of great success, love and harmony, fame and good fortune.

The Fortune Cookie did not take off for Chinese Restaurants until after WWII. Desserts were traditionally not part of Chinese dishes of cuisine, but they gave Americans something that they were used to and familiar with but had a little extra zing.

The earliest fortune cookies with Chinese cuisine featured biblical sayings, or teachings from Confucius, Aesop, or Ben Franklin. The cookie developed and evolved into a more relaxed tone which included smiley faces, lottery numbers, jokes, and advice.

Some historians believe that the fortune cookie was created in San Francisco by Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese immigrant. He was the gardener who designed and created the well know Japanese Tea Garden which is located in the Golden Gate Park. His story includes the following. He was fired as the gardener for the Japanese Tea Garden by an anti-Japanese mayor. However he was later reinstated by a new mayor. Showing his gratitude and gratefulness toward those who stood by him during his troubles and series of unfortunate events, Hagiwara created a cookie in 1914 that included a thank you note inside. He distributed them to his supporters regularly at the Japanese Tea Garden.

Due to constant mystery and controversy of where and how the fortune cookie was created, in 1983, San Francisco’s pseudo-legal Court of Historical Review held a mock trial in order to determine the origins of the fortune cookie. According to accounts of the trial the judge (which happened to be a real-life judge from San Francisco) ruled in favor of San Francisco. However, L.A. has denounced the ruling that was given, creating a even greater controversy of the origins of the Fortune Cookie.

A very important factor in China’s economic advances is the sheer size of the country, 1.3 billion people inhabit China, making up 1/5th of the worlds population. When 1.3 billion alter their trends to a consumer culture, as the Chinese have been showing signs, in an attempt to modernize, naturally the markets with which they live will change too. Chinese consumer patterns now emulate those of Western Civilizations and demand for products and goods is up. Look at a photograph of Beijing streets from 10 years ago and then look at a current picture. Both photos will likely show images of extreme traffic. The one glaring difference is that 10 years ago bicycles caused most of the traffic, as they were the main mode of transportation in much of China, especially in major cities. In modern China cars have replaced bicycles as the most popular form of transportation in major cities. The demand for oil in China has increased considerably by 1/3 in the last two years up to 7.2 million barrels a day, 34% of which are used for China’s new thirst for cars, and 43% which is used for industry. The Chinese can now afford to buy cars, electronics, and most other consumer products that are favorites of western societies.

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