The Fortune Cookie: An American Tradition - The Daily Universe (2024)

By Lindsay Cusworth

After a fulfilling meal of Mongolian beef and tangerine chicken at Shoots, a Chinese restaurant in Provo, it was time for the check; and like nearly every Chinese restaurant in America, the check came with a fortune cookie for everyone at the table.

Katie Luman, 21, majoring in broadcast journalism, took her fortune cookie out of the plastic package and broke it in half. She turned the paper fortune upside-down and put it aside. Then she ate the cookie and washed it down with a gulp of water.

“Follow your heart for success in the coming week,” she read aloud before she put the fortune in her pocket.

“Some people read the fortune and then eat the cookie, but I have to eat the whole cookie before I can read the fortune,” Luman said. “It”s just a family superstition. The fortune won”t work unless you do it that way.”

Fortune cookies have become a popular tradition at Chinese restaurants in America; however, the cookie is not of Chinese origin. Some may not realize the fortune cookie is actually an American tradition created in the early 20th century.

There has been much debate about who invented the fortune cookie. Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese landscape designer from San Francisco, is said to have invented the famous cookie in 1909, but David Jung, from Los Angeles, is also said to have invented the cookie in 1918. In 1983, San Francisco”s Court of Historical Review ruled in favor of Hagiwara as the inventor of the fortune cookie.

One might wonder why the fortune cookie has become such a popular tradition in Chinese-American culture, when the tradition is unheard of in China. People who have visited China say they never saw a fortune cookie served at a restaurant.

“I have never seen fortune cookies in China before,” said Samily Kwok, public relations major from Hong Kong. “Before I came here, I had no idea what a fortune cookie was.”

Kwok has made many visits to mainland China, and on her first experience eating a fortune cookie in the U.S., she said her initial reaction was, “How could this exist at a Chinese restaurant when it”s not a part of Chinese culture?”

Chinese culture includes many forms of determining fortunes, whether through fortunetellers, religious icons, proverbs or numbers intended to bring luck. However, there is nothing similar to the idea of fortune cookies.

“I like fortune cookies and sometimes I keep them,” Kwok said, “mostly because my friends and I like to make fun of them. And I think if fortune cookies were brought to China the people there would just laugh.”

Dana S. Bourgerie, associate professor of Asian and Near Eastern Languages, has lived in China on and off over the past 20 years, and said he has never seen a fortune cookie during any of his stays.

“The Chinese come here and think they are an American thing,” Bourgerie said. “They come here and sometimes eat it, but they assume it is Chinese-American culture. It”s just not a Chinese thing.”

If Bourgerie wants Chinese food, he makes it himself. He explained that authentic Chinese food is made with lighter sauces but dishes that are popular in America, such as Kung Pao chicken, are impossible to find in China.

“I think Chinese food here has adapted to local tastes,” Bourgerie said. “Some restaurants know how to make the authentic food, but they don”t. They make the food more suitable to American taste.”

Although not an authentic Chinese tradition, the fortune cookie has become a fun part of American culture. Everyone has their own way of eating and reading their fortune cookie. Some simply open the cookie and read the fortune, while others save their fortunes for various reasons. Receiving a fortune that reads “Remember three months from this date. Good things are in store for you” might just be one to keep track of for a few months.

The Fortune Cookie: An American Tradition - The Daily Universe (2024)
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