(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
A fortune cookie is a
crisp cookie made from flour, sugar, vanilla, and oil with a
"fortune" wrapped inside. A "fortune" is a piece of paper with words
of faux wisdom or a vague prophecy. In the United states of America
and Canada (although also available in other parts of the Western
world), it is usually served with Chinese food in Chinese
restaurants as a dessert. The message inside may also include a list
of lucky numbers (used by some as lottery numbers) and a Chinese
phrase with translation. Fortune cookies in their current form were
first served in California by immigrants who based the cookie on a
traditional Japanese cracker. The cookies are little-known in
mainland China or Taiwan.
Origin. As far
back as the 19th century, a cookie very similar in appearance to the
American Fortune cookie was made in Kyoto, Japan, and there is a
Japanese temple tradition of random fortunes, called omikuji. The
Japanese version of the cookie differs in several ways: they are a
little bit larger; are made of darker dough; and their batter
contains sesame and miso rather than vanilla and butter. They
contain a fortune; however, the small slip of paper was wedged into
the bend of the cookie rather than placed inside the hollow portion.
Most of the people who
claim to have introduced the cookie to the United States are
Japanese, so the theory is that these bakers were modifying a cookie
design which they were aware of from their days in Japan.
Makoto Hagiwara of
Golden Gate Park's Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco is reported
to have been the first person in America to have served the American
version of the cookie when he did so at the tea garden in 1890s or
early 1900s. The fortune cookies were made by a San Francisco
David Jung, founder of
the Hong Kong Noodle Company in Los Angeles, has made a competing
claim that he invented the cookie in 1918. San Francisco's mock
Court of Historical Review attempted to settle the dispute in 1983.
During the proceedings, a fortune cookie was introduced as a key
piece of evidence with a message reading, "S.F. Judge who rules for
L.A. Not Very Smart Cookie". A federal judge of the Court of
Historical Review determined that the cookie originated with
Hagiwara and the court ruled in favor of San Francisco.
Subsequently, the city of Los Angeles condemned the decision.
Seiichi Kito, the
founder of Fugetsu-do of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, also claims to
have invented the cookie. Kito claims to have gotten the idea of
putting a message in a cookie from Omikuji (fortune slip) which are
sold at temples and shrines in Japan. According to his story, he
sold his cookies to Chinese restaurants where they were greeted with
much enthusiasm in both the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas.
Thus Kito's main claim is that he is responsible for the cookie
being so strongly associated with Chinese restaurants.
Fortune cookies before
the early 20th century, however, were all made by hand. The fortune
cookie industry changed dramatically after the fortune cookie
machine was invented by Shuck Yee from Oakland, California. The
machine allowed for mass production of fortune cookies which
subsequently allowed the cookies to drop in price to become the
novelty and courtesy dessert many Americans are familiar with after
their meals at most Chinese restaurants today.
Although fortune cookies are undoubtedly a modern invention, a
legend has been developed and circulated to explain their origins.
According to this legend, in the 14th century, when the Mongols
ruled China, a revolutionary named Chu Yuan Chang planned an
uprising against them. He used moon cakes to pass along the date of
the uprising to the Chinese by replacing the yolk in the center of
the moon cake with the message written on rice paper. The Mongols
did not care for the yolks, so the plan went on successfully and the
Ming Dynasty began. It is claimed that the Moon Festival celebrates
this with the tradition of giving moon cakes with messages inside.
Immigrant Chinese railroad workers, without the ingredients to make
regular moon cakes, made biscuits instead. It is these biscuits that
may have later inspired fortune cookies.
cookies are generally called by the English term fortune cookies,
even by Chinese Americans, as there is no standard Chinese term for
them. In the Chinese language, however, fortune cookie has been
translated variously as 幸运签饼 xìngyùn qiān bǐng "good luck label
cookie", 签语饼 qiān yǔ bǐng "label-words cookie", 幸运饼 xìngyùn bǐng
"good luck cookie", 幸运签语饼 xìngyùn qiān yǔ bǐng "lucky label-words
cookie", 幸运甜饼 xìngyùn tián bǐng "good luck sweet cookie", 幸福饼干
xìngfú bǐnggān "happiness [dry] cookie", 幸运饼干 xìngyùn bǐnggān "good
luck [dry] cookie", 幸运饼 xìngyùn bǐng "good luck cookie", 幸运籤语饼
xìngyùn qiān yǔ bǐng "good luck label-words cookie", or 占卜饼 zhānbǔ
bǐng "divine cookie".