The History of the Fortune Cookie

Fortune Cookies

When you think of small or large fortune cookies, you think Chinese food, right? In actuality, the fortune cookie is not an import from Chinese culture at all. It’s actually an American invention. There are various theories as to how the fortune cookie came on the scene. But most people can agree that California was the birthplace of the now famous cookie.

One version of the story says that David Jung, an immigrant from China living in Los Angeles, created the cookie. He was the owner of the Hong Kong Noodle Company and had a heart for the poor. In 1918 he invented the cookie to hand out to the poor around his business. He tucked a bible verse inside each cookie to inspire the recipients. And so, the cookie came to be a staple of the Los Angeles Chinatown scene.

Still another version tells of a man named Makoto Hagiwara. He was the famed designer of the Japanese Tea Garden at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Being Japanese himself, he suffered under anti-Japanese politics of 1914 and was fired from his job. When he was finally rehired, he created the cookie with a statement of thanks inside for those who had supported him during his time of isolation. He gave them out at the Japanese Tea Garden. Later, in 1915 they were served at the World’s Fair, held in San Francisco.

Who can say which story is true? Californians still debate the origin of the cookie that has become a fixture in all Chinese restaurants in America. Both Los Angeles and San Francisco want to claim it as their own invention.

Regardless of the birthplace, the fortune cookie has thrived. Since Chinese restaurants typically do not serve dessert, the cookie was given out at the end of the meal so that Americans could have a little something sweet.

Fortunes have included everything from wacky sayings to advice from sage thinkers to lottery numbers. Today’s fortunes are looked upon as light and often zany advice that makes people laugh. But who can resist sharing their fortune with others at the table? Many people even save their fortunes as a secret wish that what’s written on it will come true.

It’s said that you should not select your own fortune cookie when they arrive at the table. Someone at the table should hand you one. When you open it, you should read it aloud.

Many people have jumped on the fortune cookie trend and are now having custom fortune cookies made. They’re showing up in every size and flavor you can imagine at weddings, corporate events and family reunions. Personalized fortunes are all the rage and companies will now insert whatever you’d like to say inside a fortune cookie. You can get them dipped in chocolate and sprinkles and just about any candy coating you can think of.

Does anyone actually like the taste of a fortune cookie? It might be hard to find someone who does. The cookies are bland and often stale, but they are alluring and mystical all the same. Most people tear open the wrapping and crack the cookie open. They grab the fortune and eagerly read it to find out just what sort of luck they can expect in the future. It’s a fun end to a fine meal.

Did you know that there is a National Fortune Cookie Day? It's True!