Chinese Fortune Cookie

Fortune Cookie History

Fortune cookie history, everything you ever wanted to know about these little biscuits. How, when and why - it's all explained here.

The history of the fortune cookie is a contentious issue and many a cookie has crumbled over this topic.

I had presumed that Fortune Cookies were invented by the Chinese and that they were steeped in some ancient tradition.

Well, what a surprise I got.

The Chinese Fortune Cookie is not even Chinese. It actually originated in the good old USA, California.

That we know for sure. But by whom, when and in which city, still remains under a cloud of confusion.

There are a couple of thoughts on the subject.

  Fortune Cookies

#1     A Chinese immigrant, David Jung, living in Los Angeles and founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Company invented the fortune cookie in 1918.

The story goes that David Jung was concerned with all the poor he saw in the streets near his shop. So he created a cookie to pass out to them for free. Each cookie contained an inspirational verse written by the local Presbyterian minister.

#2     A Japanese immigrant named Makoto Hagiwara invented the fortune cookie in San Francisco in 1914. He was the designer of the famous Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

The fortune cookie was not introduced to the Chinese until the 1990's and were amusingly advertised as "Genuine American Fortune Cookies".

Makoto was fired by an anti-Japanese mayor of the time and suffered much hardship until a later mayor reinstated him. Being thankful to those who had stood by him during this time he created a cookie that contained a "thank-you" note. These became very popular and so began serving them regularly. And then in 1915 they were displayed at World Fair, in San Francisco.


#3     Way back in 13th and 14th Centuries, China was occupied by the Mongols. Chu Yuan Chang, a patriotic revolutionary of the time made plans for an uprising against the Mongols. In order to instruct all the Chinese of the date of the uprising, messages were hidden in 'Moon Cakes'. Moon Cakes contained a 'yolk' of Lotus Paste which the Mongols did not appreciate so this yolk was replaced with rice paper messages. The uprising was successful and the Ming Dynasty was born.

Thus a tradition of giving cakes with messages was born and a Moon Festival regularly celebrated.

It is thought that this legend is what inspired the Chinese 49'ers who worked on the construction of the great American Railways through the Sierra Nevada to California. At Moon Festival time they did not have any moon cakes but only biscuits. So out of necessity they improvised and the Fortune Cookie was born.

So, while we may never know the real beginning of the Fortune Cookie, we do know the first ones were made by chopsticks. And, it was not until 1964, when Edward Louie of San Francisco's Lotus Fortune Cookie Company invented a machine to make the cookies.

Today it is rare not to finish a Chinese meal in America or Canada without the Fortune Cookie.

Whether you actually eat it or not, is not important. It's the "fortune" inside that matters.

And it matters heaps, as one company alone makes 60 million Chinese Fortune Cookies a month.


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