Fortune cookies are not an ancient Chinese tradition, but are either a North American invention or a Japanese treat. The Fortune Cookie. The Origins Of ThisTasty Treat.
The most common explanation of the origin of the fortune cookie comes from U.S. experts who theorize that Chinese migrants, working on the railways, created these sweet little nuggets of faux wisdom.
First, we go back a few centuries. According to legend, back during the 14th century when the Mongols ruled China, a revolution was brewing to overthrow them. To foment an uprising, Chinese rebels used lotus-seed mooncakes with messages written on rice paper hidden inside to successfully overthrow the Mongols. Since then, the Chinese have celebrated their annual fall Moon Festival with these cakes.
So, when immigrant Chinese railroad workers in California wanted to do their annual fest, they were hampered by the lack of authentic ingredients to make mooncakes thus, the fortune cookie was born – composed of flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, and milk which is baked around a fortune, a piece of paper. Now, millions are ingested in Chinese restos around the world.
Mock court case over origins
But in the U.S., there is still contention over details. Apparently, Makoto Hagiwara of Golden Gate Park’s Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco is said to have invented the cookie in 1909, while David Jung, founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Company in Los Angeles, is also reported to have created them in 1918.
It actually became a mock court case in 1983. A federal judge of the U.S. Court of Historical Review ruled the cookie originated with Hagiwara. Score one for San Fran.
The first mass production of fortune cookies began in 1964 when Edward Louie of San Francisco’s Lotus Fortune Cookie Company created a machine that folds the dough and slips in the fortune.
More than 60 million cookies are shipped out every month by Wonton Food Inc. of Long Island City, Queens – the world’s largest manufacturer of this tasty treat.
Japanese Lay Claim to the Fortune Cookie
Wait a minute. There’s still that other claim – the one made by the Japanese.
If you go to a certain part of Japan, there are little bakeries which specialize in a cookie that looks suspiciously like a fortune cookie.
They are bigger, browner and not as sweet – as they are created with miso and sesame rather than butter and vanilla. The little messages are placed in the crease rather than inside, out of consideration for the eater who may bite into the paper.
Many of these cookies are imprinted with a fox insignia, a nod to the Shinto shrine from which the cookies are said to originate.
Japanese prints from the late 18th century feature men making these cookies much the same way they are made now, which would make the fortune cookie a Japanese invention.
By the way, there is a 1966 movie called The Fortune Cookie starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.
It’s about a cameraman, who gets injured by a football player during a game and ends up in the hospital. His brother-in-law, who is a lawyer, convinces him to pretend that he is paralyzed in order to get a massive insurance payout. Misadventure ensues when insurance officials begin to suspect it’s a con. Don’t ask where the fortune cookie comes in….