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Cracking open the history of the fortune cookie

Despite popular beliefs, fortune cookies are an American invention. There are many theories, and much speculation surrounding the mysterious origin. They originated in California, but who the actual inventor was, has continued to be a matter of debate. One history of the fortune cookie claims that David Jung, a Chinese immigrant living in Los Angeles and founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Company, invented the cookie in 1918. Due to his concern with the poor, he felt obliged to pass out free cookies on the streets. Each cookie contained a strip of paper with an inspirational Bible scripture.

Another history claims that the fortune cookie was invented in San Francisco by a Japanese immigrant named Makoto Hagiwara. An anti-Japanese mayor fired him from his job, but later he was reinstated. Grateful to those who had stood by him, he created a cookie in 1914 that included a thank you note inside.

In 1983, San Francisco’s legal Court of Historical Review held a mock trial to determine the origins of the fortune cookie. Unsurprisingly, the judge ruled in favour of San Francisco. Among the evidence was a fortune cookie whose message read: “S.F. Judge who rules for L.A. Not Very Smart Cookie.” However, this ruling was denounced soon after. Desserts were not traditionally part of Chinese cuisine, and the cookies thus offered Americans something familiar with an exotic flair. Fortune cookies then became common in Chinese restaurants after World War II. As for predicting the future, no, fortune cookies do not predict whether you’re going to bump into a tall handsome stranger. Unless they’re telling you that you’re going to meet at Chopstix. Because then those special powers of foresight are spot on!

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