Back In Time: Fortune Cookie | Alyssa J Cori: Back In Time: Fortune Cookie

February 27, 2019

Back In Time: Fortune Cookie

Happy belated Chinese New Year! I'm currently in California and there are tons of decorations and celebrations going on for the Lunar New Year. While you'll soon learn that the fortune cookie didn't originate in China (shouldn't be too surprising since things are very rarely what they first appear in this back in time series)...I wanted to give a nod to the holiday and my recent craving for Chinese food while I stayed in Chinatown in San Francisco.
Click to read now or pin to save for later! Learn all about the surprising origin of the fortune cookie

As I mentioned before, the fortune cookie did not originate in China, but was created in California. However, there's debate about if it's even a Chinese American invention. Let's take a look at a few stories...

Japanese Origin

There are two claimants of Japanese decent - Makoto Hagiwara and Suyeichi Okamura. Hagiwara was a gardener and the designer of the famous Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. Unfortunately, he was fired by a mayor who was no fan of the Japanese, but was reinstated by a proceeding mayor. As the story goes, he created what we would recognize as the fortune cookie with thank you notes inside to show his gratitude.

But who is this Okamura fellow, you might ask? He was the founder of a Japanese confectionary in San Francisco and allegedly was Hagiwara's cookie supplier. There are hand skillet molds that were used to create fortune cookies for Hagiwara with his initials and a descendent of Okamura has donated them to the Smithsonian. Okamura's grandson wrote a compelling case that you can see here.

It's possible that Hagiwara designed the cookie and Okamura produced it...but what about these other claimants I mentioned? Let's hear what the Chinese have to say.

Chinese Origin

Meet David Jung from Los Angeles. It is said that he was the creator of the fortune cookie and did so out of the goodness of his heart. Instead of including thank you notes in the cookie, Jung inserted bible verses and passed the cookies out to the poor on the streets. 

Figuring out the "truth"

The Japanese claim that with the outbreak of WWII, the Japanese businesses of California were disrupted and it gave the Chinese the opening to produce and sell the cookie to Chinese restaurants. This sort of thievery could not stand (even years later) and in 1983 a mock trial was held to determine the origination. 

Unsurprisingly, the trial was held in San Francisco and the court ruled in favor of San Francisco. The judge's mind may have been swayed by popular opinion in the area, or the veiled threat he received in a fortune cookie that said "S.F. judge that rules for L.A. not very smart cookie."

A founding father, because there's always one

While no founding fathers are directly involved with the origination and contention around the fortune cookie, I was able to find a connection as I am apt to do. Early fortune cookies did not just have a prediction for you and some lucky numbers and Chinese vocabulary. There were bible verses, like in Jung's story, but there were also quotes from the likes of Confucius and Aesop, and, of course, Ben Franklin!

What do you think? Did the Chinese (LA) of Japanese (SF) create this Chinese dining staple?


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