Fortune Cookie!

Crack a Fortune Cookie!

There are many ways to say Fortune Cookie in Chinese:
幸运饼 xìngyùn bǐng "good luck cookie"
签语饼 qiān yǔ bǐng "label-words cookie"
幸运签饼 xìngyùn qiān bǐng "good luck label 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"
占卜饼 zhānbǔ bǐng "divine cookie".

(Source: 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 bakery, Benkyodo.

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.

Chinese Legend. 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.

Etymology. The 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 幸运饼 xìngyùn bǐng "good luck cookie"; 签语饼 qiān yǔ bǐng "label-words cookie"; 幸运签饼 xìngyùn qiān bǐng "good luck label 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";占卜饼 zhānbǔ bǐng "divine cookie".