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What are Fortune Cookies?

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  • Written By: Deborah Ng
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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Anyone who has been to a Chinese restaurant has had, or at least seen, fortune cookies. These almond or vanilla flavored treats not only taste great, but they boast a surprise inside —- a small strip of paper with a prediction or saying printed on it. You might imagine that these cookies are steeped in centuries of tradition, but you couldn't be more wrong. As with most Chinese takeout foods as we know them, they were invented in America not too long ago.

The history of fortune cookies is highly debated. One story tells that the cookies were invented in San Francisco sometime around 1914. A chef named Mikoto Hagiwata passed out cookies to those who strolled about in his Japanese tea gardens in Golden Gate Park. Each cookie had a little note inside saying "Thank you." At San Francisco's World's Fair in 1915, Hagiwata passed his treats around, thus introducing fortune cookies to the world.

Hagiwata isn't the only one supposed to have invented fortune cookies, however. David Jung, owner of the Hong Kong Noodle Company in Los Angeles, also lists fortune cookie invention as his claim to fame. Jung claimed to have baked the cookies in 1918 as an encouraging treat for unemployed and down on their luck people who walked the streets looking for work.

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Regardless of who actually invented them, Chinese Americans saw a purpose in them. Since Americans generally ate dessert after a meal, Chinese restaurants began offering fortune cookies after dinner. Soon, they became part of a traditional Chinese-American meal.

Nowadays, fortune cookies are made in a variety of flavors, including chocolate. They're not just used for after dinner sweets at Chinese restaurants. These cookies are now a popular party favor. In fact, they're used often as wedding favors, but instead of a fortune inside the cookie, the bride and groom's name and wedding date are printed!

The fortunes themselves have evolved as well. In addition to the usual fortunes telling of luck and prosperity, the person breaking open a fortune cookie may also find lucky numbers and Chinese language lessons.

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