Amuse Bouche: What’s Up With Fortune Cookies?

Recently, we received what was either the best or worst fortune cookie message of all time. We were hoping for something as awesome as our two favorite fortunes of all time (“You will be invited to a karaoke party” and “Your stupidity will be your downfall”) and found a little sheet of paper with the familiar pink lettering. It read, simply, “The weather is wonderful.” The weather is wonderful? That, friends, is not a fortune. That is a non-predictive statement (not to mention a statement that was not even particularly true at the time, unless the writer meant that weather, in and of itself, is a marvelous thing). As we pondered what sort of person might have wanted to share their awe at the weather with us, we became curious about who writes fortune cookies. It was time for a mini-investigation.

As you probably already know, fortune cookies, though they are served almost exclusively in Chinese restaurants, have pretty much nothing to do with China. Although there are multiple theories on their origins, it is probable that they were invented in 1909 San Francisco by Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese man. Although the world’s largest manufacturer of fortune cookies briefly operated a factory in China, it closed quickly. As vice president Richard Leung opined, “Fortune cookies are too American a concept.”

So who writes the messages in these American cookies? Turns out, it’s a mixed group, including students, retirees, freelancers, and random employees of Wonton Foods. Now, if only we could find out who was so insistent on spreading their joy with the weather…

Fortune Cookie [Wikipedia]
The Secret History of Fortune Cookies [Columbia News Service]
Cookie Master [The New Yorker]

Amuse Bouche: What’s Up With Fortune Cookies?