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Ancient Chinese Secret: The Origins Of The Fortune Cookie

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By Mia Bolaris-Forget

Who doesn’t love some Asian fare? In fact, Chinese food is good whether you eat it our or at home, straight out of the container while watching a movie. And, if you select wisely (Grasshopper) it may even be good for you. Well, all except the sugar filled “Fortune Cookie”

Did you ever wonder however, how one of the healthiest diets in the world got, as one of its staples a cookie with zero nutritional value, but lots of “wholesome” entertainment value.

Well, while there’s been some contention as to its origins; this droll “dessert” was probably the brainchild of an Asian American from San Francisco.

In fact, some historians theorize that the inspiration came from the 14th Century when Chinese soldiers would insert messages into mooncakes in efforts to coordinate their overthrow of Mongolian invaders. The story further suggests that Chinese patriots sought permission from Mongolian leaders to honor the long live of the Mongolian emperor by offering gifts to friends and family. These gifts were round mooncakes, containing hidden messages concerning the “Revolt on the fifteenth of the eighth moon”. And, these instructions were the basis of what ultimately led to the rise of the Ming Dynasty. Plus, it’s a custom in China to send out cake rolls with a message inside announcing the birth of a child. However, where in America these cookies were “first” made is still a matter of debate.

According to one story, Canton-native, David Jung, a Los Angeles baker and restaurateur introduced these message-containing cookies around 1920. Jung handed out these tiny treats as a means of offering words of encouragement to the poor and homeless people on the streets. He later founded the Hong King Noodle Company and mass manufactured these fortune cookies.

Another story notes Makota Hagiwara, a landscape architect and caretaker of the Japanese Tea Gardens as the innovator behind the fortune cookie, again in Los Angeles, again, in the early 1900s. According to “legend” he created cookies with thank you notes, which helped him in a dispute with the city’s mayor. He went on to display his creating at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition held in San Francisco, name by the Court of Historical Reviews and Appeals (a San Francisco mock court), as the “fortune cookie capital of the world”, a distinction awarded back in 1983.

Fortune cookies gained notoriety and popularity in restaurants after World War II, as desserts were not common to Chinese cuisine and these note-bearing cookies gave Americans something familiar with a foreign and exotic twist. Plus, it kicked off the tradition of giving cakes with messages as a way of expressing well-wishes, good fortune and good will and many an important occasion.

However, these little end- of- dinner treats remained virtually unknown in Asia until 1993 when the Wonton food Co. brought its operations to China, a project that was short lived.

Fortune cookies were originally manufactured by hand using chopsticks. But, in 1964, Edward Louie of San Francisco’s Lotus Fortune Cookie Company, automated the process by inventing a machine to fold the dough and slip in the fortune. Today, the world’s largest fortune cookie company, Wonton Food Inc, located in Long Island City, Queens ships nearly 60 million cookies per month.

Long Island Travel & Leisure Articles > Ancient Chinese Secret: The Origins Of The Fortune Cookie

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