Have you ever ordered a meal from a Chinese restaurant and been given a small, thin cookie at the end of it which contained a fortune inside? These popular little treats are seen all over the world at Chinese restaurants, but are they actually Chinese? Where do they really come from?
Fortune cookies are, in fact, a recent invention and one that doesn’t even trace its origins back to China! In the 19th century, people in the Japanese region of Kyoto began to make tea cookies which contained small fortunes known as omikuji which were started by Buddhist temples.
This tradition was exported to the United States and Americanized in the late 19th century when a Japanese worker named Makoto Hagiwara started serving a version which closely resembles the contemporary fortune cookie in Golden Gate Park at the Japanese tea garden in San Francisco.
These cookies began to be made by local bakeries and shipped out and served at Japanese restaurants. During the World War II period, Chinese-Americans also began using the fortune cookie idea and making and serving their own at Chinese restaurants.
While fortune cookies are undeniably a part of Chinese-American restaurant traditions, it’s surprising to learn that they can actually be traced back to their close neighbors of Japan. What an interesting story!