The Mysterious History of the Fortune Cookie

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Even if you don’t end up eating your fortune cookie at the end of your meal, it’s practically sacrilegious to not pry it open to read the whimsical fortune hidden within this treat. While they are a pretty common sight for most of us, fortune cookies are wrapped up in a mysterious history, with their origin still surrounded by much speculation. Let’s check out these three theories as to how these iconic cookies came about

The first theory starts in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1900’s, where a plan was unfolding to transform this previously run down area into a renowned tourist attraction. City planners wanted to promise tourists an authentic Oriental experience, so Chinatown was lavishly decorated and filled with cultural influences from the East in hopes of drawing tourism. However, Chinese cuisine is not known for its desserts, so out of necessity to fill tourists demands for sweets, a worker in San Francisco’s Kay Heong Noodle Factory invented a plain cookie in the 1930’s. While still warm, this flat cookie could be folded around a special piece of paper containing a hand-written prediction, and became an instant hit with tourists.

Another theory hailing from San Francisco states that Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese immigrant, was the original inventor of the fortune cookie. Hagiwara, the designer of the famous Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, was an avid gardener up until he was fired by an anti-Japanese mayor. A few years later, he was reinstated by a new mayor, and to display his appreciation to the friends who stuck with him through his troubled times, Hagiwara made cookies and placed a thank you note inside. Eventually, they became regularly served at the Japanese Tea Garden, and went on to spread across the country.

The final theory takes us Los Angeles, where Chinese immigrant David Jung, the founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Company is said to be the inventor of the fortune cookie. In 1918, Jung was concerned after seeing poor people wandering near his shop looking for food. To help those in need, he created the fortune cookie and passed them out on the streets. Each cookie contained a hand-written piece of paper with an inspirational Bible scripture to keep spirits high.

So which one is true? Well, we still don’t have a definite answer to that. However, it’s likely that each theory holds some base of truth behind it. While we might not know the true origins of fortune cookies, I think it just adds to the charm behind these fun little desserts. It’s always exciting to crack one open and read your fortune, and in the back of your mind think, “maybe it will come true?”

Avid writer and reader with a curious mind. I'm always looking to get the most out of life! Follow me on Twitter @whatsaschoon

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