powered by FreeFind

Related Articles


Sponsor Ad

Chinese Culture >> Chinese Food Articles

Fortune Cookie Origins

With the Chinese New Year rapidly approaching, thoughts turn to colorful parades, fire crackers, spectacular fireworks exploding in the sky, and a plethora of food. What would a celebration be without those crunchy Fortune Cookies with the hidden messages?
No one knows for sure where fortune cookies first made their appearance.

There are several schools of thought. Historically speaking, the first mention of secret messages hidden within a cookie occurred during the 13th and 14th centuries. China was occupied by the Mongols. In order to get word of the upcoming revolt, the patriotic revolutionary Chen Juan Chen disguised himself as a Taoist priest so that he might be able to enter walled cities which were occupied by the Mongols. He was able to move safely through these cities under the guise of a priest and thus, able to hand out moon cakes to other revolutionaries. It was said the Mongols did not care for the taste of lotus nut paste, an ingredient usually contained in moon cakes, The Chinese replaced the lotus nut paste yolk with secret messages, successfully alerting the revolutionaries of the uprising which would be the foundation of the Ming Dynasty.

Another Chinese custom involving cake rolls with messages is that when a baby is born, it is customary for the family to send out cake rolls containing a birth announcement.

An additional version of the origin of fortune cookies involves the Chinese 49ers who laid down the railroad through the Sierra Nevada mountains during the California Gold Rush. The Chinese workers had few pleasures but they did exchange, during the Moon Festival, biscuits containing happy messages in place of the traditional moon cakes. It has been suggested that in San Francisco, a cottage industry making fortune cookies sprung up after completion of the railroad and the Gold Rush.

The generally accepted version of the origin of fortune cookies goes back to 1914 San Francisco. Japanese immigrant Machete Hagiwara, a landscape designer, developed the plans for the renowned Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. He was fired by San Francisco's anti-Japanese mayor around the turn of the 20th century, leaving him in financial distress until he was reinstated by a later mayor. There are two versions to the development of the fortune cookie. One version proposes Hagiwara created the cookies with a thank-you note inside as a gift of gratefulness to those who did not abandon him during his misfortune. Another version says he made the cookies as refreshment for the visitors strolling through the Japanese Tea Garden. In 1915, his cookies were on display at San Francisco's world fair, the Panama-Pacific Exhibition.

In the early 1900s, entrepreneurs proposed a plan to transform San Francisco's Chinatown from a poor slum area into a tourist destination. The city promoted decorations, parades, and architecture reminiscent of China. It is said the increased tourism led to the creation of fortune cookies so the visitors might have a dessert item. To this end, in the 1930s, a worker at San Francisco's Kay Heong Noodle Factory designed a plain flat cookie. While the flat cookie was still warm, it was folded around a slip of paper on which was written a prediction or some Chinese wisdom.

Still another version involves 1918 Los Angeles. It states that the fortune cookie was invented by Chinese immigrant David Jung, proprietor of the Hong Kong Noodle Company. Jung, worried about all the impoverished, unemployed men milling around the area near his business, passed out free cookies which contained uplifting verse, written for Jung by a Presbyterian minister.

Fortune cookies were traditionally made by hand using chopsticks but in 1964, Edward Louie of San Francisco's Lotus
Fortune Cookie Company, designed a machine that automatically folded the dough and inserted the fortune.

Although fortune cookies are served in Chinese restaurants throughout the world, they are almost unheard of in China. In the few places they are available in China, they are advertised as Genuine American Fortune Cookies.

In 1983, in an attempt to finally ascertain the origins of the fortune cookie, there was a mock trial in San Francisco's pseudo-legal Court of Historical Review. San Francisco was declared the winner, with Los Angeles denouncing the decision.

Chinese, Japanese, or American? It does not matter - the cookies are delicious, no matter from whence they came.

About the Author

More hints & insights about food and cooking at Food and Cooking Tips. Terry Kaufman also writes for and .