Mysterious history of the Fortune Cookie

By Caryl Clem

The element of surprise and suspense in a dessert amplifies celebrating sharing food.  In Chinese and Japanese restaurants the end of a meal reveals clues to your immediate future.  A slip of paper hiding in the middle of a fortune cookie will offer lucky numbers, a wise saying or fateful prediction. Passing out the traditional free fortune cookie appears to be a time honored legend.  The first forerunner of messages printed on food was the NECCO Conversation Hearts in 1866.

Digging into these cookies past, I realized I knew nothing factual about this treat.  The biggest supplier of this product is a Chinese food company, Wonton Food based in New York, yet the origin of the cookie is Japanese. A Japanese confectionery store owner, Suyeichi Okamura, supplied a famous Japanese restaurant owner of the Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park with this Japanese regional favorite. Several hand skillet molds donated to the Smithsonian, were developed by Mokoto Hagiwara to shape this delicacy. In 1908, the larger than today’s version of a fortune cookie was making its first debut with a slip of paper lodged in a fold outside of the cookie. .

The Tea Garden was shut down when Japanese business owners were sent to internment camps in California during World War II. Chinese business owners took advantage of the opportunity to produce this dessert and devised a smaller cookie with the fortune hidden inside.   The cookie became associated with a new nationality, Chinese.  Ironically, in most Chinese restaurants the fortune cookie tradition is honored with the exception of China.  Romance seekers in the Chinese culture use the fortune cookie as a means to propose, especially on the most romantic holiday of the year the Double Seventh Festival, August 7th, 2021.

Ready to dive into food and your future, National Fortune Cookie Day is July 20, 2021.  If you are ready to cook then Amazon offers Fortune Cookie kits, or try EASY FORTUNE COOKIES