Why are fortune cookies not actually Chinese?

Chee Loh
2 min readMar 28

--

Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

Fortune cookies are a staple of many Chinese restaurants in the Western world. These sweet, crunchy treats with a slip of paper inside that reveals a message or a prediction are often seen as a traditional Chinese dessert. However, the truth is that fortune cookies are not actually Chinese at all.

First, it’s important to understand that the concept of a cookie with a fortune inside is not unique to Chinese culture. In fact, many cultures have some variation of this tradition. For example, in Japan, there is a similar treat called omikuji that is sold at shrines and temples. Omikuji are thin strips of paper with fortunes or predictions written on them, and they are usually tied to a tree or a post as a form of prayer.

So how did fortune cookies become associated with Chinese culture in the West? The answer lies in the history of Chinese immigration to the United States. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Chinese immigrants arrived in the United States seeking work and a better life. They faced discrimination and prejudice, and they often had to work in low-paying jobs with poor working conditions.

To make ends meet, many Chinese immigrants started their own businesses, including restaurants. In the early days of Chinese restaurants in the United States, there was a trend of serving after-dinner snacks or desserts to customers. These snacks included things like sugared walnuts, candied fruit, and other sweet treats.

It is believed that the fortune cookie was invented in California in the early 1900s by Japanese immigrants who were running a competing snack business. They created a cookie that was similar to the Chinese-American after-dinner snacks but added a slip of paper with a fortune inside. The idea caught on, and soon Chinese restaurants across the United States were serving fortune cookies to their customers.

Over time, the fortune cookie became a popular symbol of Chinese culture in the United States. It was featured in movies and television shows, and it became a standard part of the Chinese-American dining experience. However, despite its association with Chinese culture, the fortune cookie is not actually Chinese in origin.

Fortune cookies may be a beloved part of the Chinese-American dining experience, but they are not actually Chinese. Instead, they were created by Japanese immigrants in California in the early 1900s and became popularized by Chinese restaurants across the United States. Understanding the true origins of fortune cookies can help us appreciate the rich diversity of cultural traditions and influences that have shaped American cuisine.

--

--

Chee Loh

Malaysian Living in China