Fortune cookies, those ubiquitous, individually-wrapped vanilla treats, have a strong association with Chinese restaurants. You’ll always find a handful of the wafer cookies, each bearing a fortune and lesson in the Chinese language, at the bottom of your bag of Chinese takeout – often a light, welcome treat after indulging in a big meal! These cookies are inherent to the American Chinese restaurant experience, but did you know that they were invented by a Japanese confectioner in San Francisco, CA before World War I?
The origin of fortune cookies has been a point of contention among Chinese and Japanese immigrant populations for decades. There have been proclamations from both Chinese and Japanese communities about who invented the fortune cookie, and there was so much disagreement over the issue that it went to court in 1983. However, the judge presiding over the case handed down a split decision and declined to name which nationality was responsible for the invention of fortune cookies.
More recently, historical researchers investigating the confections traced the invention of fortune cookies to a family-owned bakery in Kyoto, Japan whose small confections were flavored with sesame and filled with paper fortunes. The origin of fortune cookies as we know them in American cuisine was traced back to a Japanese immigrant in San Francisco, CA who started a bakery called Benkyodo in 1906. This bakery provided Japanese fortune cookies to the Japanese Tea Garden at the Golden Gate Park. Benkyodo continued to provide the cookies to the Japanese Tea Garden until the onset of World War II when the government’s unfortunate decision to force Japanese-Americans in California into internment camps caused Japanese-owned businesses to close. At this time, Chinese businessmen in the area saw an opportunity to make their own fortune from fortune cookies and began producing and supplying them to Chinese restaurants. This is where the modern association of fortune cookies and Chinese food begins.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try making fortune cookies at home!
Create your own paper fortunes by typing them in a vintage-style font and cutting them into thin strips. You can surprise your family and friends by creating personalized fortunes specifically for each person, or add a birthday or anniversary greetings onto the back of the fortune!
To learn how to prepare fortune cookies, Click Here
NMAH. “Origins of a Fortune Cookie.” National Museum of American History. Smithsonian Institute, 08 July 2010. Web. 01 May 2016.
Rhodes, Jesse. “Cracking Open the History of Fortune Cookies.”Smithsonian. Smithsonian Institution, 2 Feb. 2011. Web. 01 May 2016.