What’s Up With America’s Lucky Biscuits?

Fortune cookies amuse me. They’re served in Chinese restaurants in the U.S., but have very little to do with China.

I never even saw one until I came to the U.S. We certainly didn't have them in Singapore where I grew up.

The “fortune” is the note inside the cookie that’s usually advice or a prediction. The notes may include lucky numbers.

These cookies are very similar to ones made in Kyoto, Japan, going back to the 1800s. The Japanese cookies, which also contained fortunes, are still sold in some parts of Japan today.

Fortune cookies most likely were brought by Japanese immigrants to the States in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It seems the fortune cookie as we know it was first served at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Sometime during World War II, the fortune cookie went from being a Japanese-American product to one produced by Chinese-Americans. One theory is that Chinese-Americans took over making the cookies while a large number of Japanese-Americans were imprisoned during the war.

One of these cookies played a role in my family’s fortunes. In the 1980s, my father-in-law was hoping to find a job in Boston. At the same time, there was an opportunity in Rhode Island. He opened a fortune cookie whose message said, “Don’t miss your boat waiting for your ship to come in.”

He took the advice. The job in Rhode Island ended up being a good decision for the family and his career.

According to my husband, the fortunes in the cookies aren’t as good as they used to be. But of course, that particular fortune cookie that changed his family’s lives was a tough act to follow.

The photo below is my latest fortune from one of the cookies.


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