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The History of Fortune Cookies…

Giant fortune cookies are great for gifts, centerpieces, marriage proposals, thank-yous and many other occasions. But, did you know that despite their association with Chinese culture, fortune cookies were invented in California?
Some historians think that the inspiration for Fortune Cookies came from the 12th and 13th centuries when Chinese soldiers slipped rice paper messages into mooncakes to help coordinate their defense against Mongolian invaders. It grew to become a Chinese custom when children were born - for families to send out cake rolls with a message inside announcing the birth.

The fortune cookies we know and love today are undoubtedly an American invention. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles lay claim to the origin of the fortune cookie. Makota Hagiwara, a landscape architect and caretaker of the Japanese Tea Gardens made Fortune Cookies in Los Angeles in the early 1900s. His cookies contained thank you notes, which helped him settle a dispute with the city’s mayor. He displayed his creation at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition held in San Francisco. The Court of Historical Reviews and Appeals ruled that San Francisco is the rightful “fortune cookie capital of the world” in 1983. Los Angeles politicians condemned that decision, believing the honor should have gone to their city.

Regardless of where they were invented, fortune cookies have become an integral part of the Chinese restaurant experience. There are many different and interesting superstitions that dictate how and when to eat your cookie. For example:

  1. The entire cookie must be consumed in order for the fortune to come true
  2. Don’t eat the cookie if a fortune seems unlucky.
  3. The entire cookie must be eaten before reading the fortune…but how could you do both this and # 2??
  4. Or conversely, the fortune must be read before any of the cookie is eaten.
  5. Some people believe the fortune will not come true if it is read aloud…just like “wishes” when blowing out birthday candles.

Other people follow rules involving how the cookie is selected -- including always selecting a cookie with your eyes closed, passing a cookie to another person at the table, or choosing the cookie that seems to be pointing directly toward you.

The Washington Post ran a story on May 12, 2005 regarding fortune cookies and lottery numbers. It tells the story of the U.S. Powerball lottery drawing of March 30, 2005 which produced an unprecedented 110 second-place winners. All picked the same five numbers correctly but without the Powerball number. The lottery commission wound up having to make $19.4 million in unexpected payouts to lucky Fortune Cookie customers.

Though Powerball officials initially suspected fraud, it turned out that all the winners received their numbers from fortune cookies made by the same fortune cookie factory in Long Island City, New York. The number combinations you see printed on the backs of the fortunes are reused in thousands of cookies per day. The five winning numbers were 22, 28, 32, 33, and 39. The sixth number in the fortune, 40, did not match the Powerball number - it was off by 2.

Check out our other web pages for unique histories of other cookies.