The history of the fortune cookie. Teach English in China with Pioneer and Beyond (1)

The history of the fortune cookie

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History of the fortune cookie

“The Japanese invented the fortune cookie, the Chinese advertised it, and the Americans tasted it.” Jennifer 8. Lee

A fortune cookie is a crisp cookie made from flour, oil, vanilla, and sugar. Fortune cookies have messages of fortune hidden inside. Usually, fortunes are pieces of paper with words of wisdom or vague prophecies. Similarly, the message can be a list of lucky numbers. Some people use these numbers as lottery numbers. Likewise, it may be a Chinese phrase with a translation.

Most notably, Americanized Chinese restaurants are popular for serving fortune cookies. Usually, patrons take them as desserts. Even more, you will hardly find fortune cookies in a typical Chinese restaurant. Furthermore, the Chinese do not have a liking for fortune cookies. As such, there exist no records of this food item in China.

Origin of the fortune cookie

The fortune cookie originated from San Francisco. This city is home to the vibrant Chinatown in America. Here, one is in a position to enjoy all of the Chinese local delicacies. Western restaurants often serve dessert after meals. Therefore, fortune cookies are a common dessert beside other varieties.

Who invented the fortune cookie?

The fortune cookie became introduced to America by Chinese and Japanese immigrants. Modern-day fortune cookies were first introduced in California at the beginning of the 20th Century. However, there is no specific person known to have invented the fortune cookie. Conversely, there are three narratives to this invention.

The first narrative

The first narrative talks about a Japanese immigrant to America. His name was Makoto Hagiwara. Makoto worked as a landscape designer. Moreover, he designed the famous Japanese Tea Garden. Its location is in Golden Gate Park in Francisco.

Makoto believed he was the original inventor of fortune cookies. During his time as a gardener, one anti-Japanese mayor fired him. He was in a foreign land and matters became worse when he lost his job. However, he always found something to do in order to make some income. Fortunately, Makoto would later get reinstated by a new mayor. Consequently, he felt the need to appreciate those who stood with him during the troubled times. As a result, Makoto made cookies for his friends. Inside these cookies, he placed handwritten messages of appreciation and thankfulness. Above all, his friends loved the cookies. Therefore, the cookies were even sold at the Japanese Tea Garden. Likewise, the patrons liked the cookies. Subsequently, Matoko’s fortune cookies gradually spread all over San Francisco and beyond.

The second narrative

The second narrative tells the story of a Chinese immigrant to America. His name was David Jung. In 1916, Jung founded the Hong Kong noodle company in Los Angeles. Being a food processing company, he noticed that people roamed around his business. They were poor people in search of food. Out of compassion, Jung felt the need to help the needy. Furthermore, it would be his way of giving back to the society. Therefore, Jung created the fortune cookie. His intention was to feed the poor. Similarly, he wanted to encourage them. Hence, Jung made cookies with messages of hope. Even more, some had encouraging scriptures from the Bible. Most noteworthy, these messages were handwritten. With time, the fortune cookies trend spread throughout Los Angeles.


In the third narrative

In the third narrative, Seiichi Kito, the founder of Fugetsu-do also claimed to invent the fortune cookie. He arguably got the idea from Omikuji. Omikuji are cookies with messages sold at shrines and temples in Japan. He subsequently sold his cookies in Chinese restaurants. He concentrated his sales in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Apparently, the reception was positive. Therefore, Kito believed he is the reason for fortune cookie popularity in Chinese restaurants.

Makoto Hagiwara and David Jung disagreed on the original inventor of fortune cookies. As a result, they filed a lawsuit to help determine the real inventor. The Los Angeles Almanac website approves that there is no evidence of Jung inventing cookies. In contrast, there were clips available to show that Matoko invented the fortune cookies. Therefore, in 1983, the San Francisco court held a mock trial for the lawsuit. It ruled in favour of Matoko Hagiwara. They concluded that San Francisco was home to fortune cookies. Unfortunately, David Jung did not accept the ruling and it has remained a tussle.

Today, America celebrates national fortune cookie day on July 20th. Wonton Food, based in New York is the largest manufacturer of fortune cookies in America. The company produces over 60 billion cookies per year.

Wonton Food attempted to introduce fortune cookies to China in the 1980s. However, the Chinese did not buy the idea. As such, Wonton Food gave up after three years. They exited the Chinese food market in 1982.


Fortune Cookie History – Who Invented The Fortune Cookie?, (accessed November 28, 2018)

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