Golden Gater Online

January 31, 1995

Fortune cookie US invention

by Ellie Parvin

After eating in a Chinese restaurant in the United States, diners are accustomed to being presented with a fortune cookie.

These cookies, however, weren't founded in a Chinese bakery. They actually originated in a small Los Angeles bakery in 1919, according to Judge Daniel M. Hanlon's ruling on Oct. 27, 1983, documented in the Court of Historical Review.

In fact, the cookie made its debut in China in 1992, made possible by The Won Ton Food Co. based in Brooklyn.

The first fortune cookies contained Bible messages written by a Presbyterian reverend.

After World War I, bakery owner David Jung wanted to give the people he saw in the streets something to eat and a message of encouragement. Jung experimented with different types of batters and methods until he came up with the method used today.

It is not easy work. Each fortune cookie is folded by hand. First, the flat wafers must be lifted out of the baking molds while still hot and pliable. Even with the use of protective gloves, the baker's fingers quickly became calloused from the constant contact with the heat of the crust and the plates.

The cookie must be folded over the slip of paper printed with the fortune. Then another fold gives the cookie its characteristic wedge shape. Finally, it is placed in a slot while the sugar cools and the cookie hardens.

The piece of paper inside the crisp folded wafer is more than a fortune, "it is a philosophy of life," said Nancy Chan, who works for the Golden Gate Fortune Cookies Company in San Francisco's Chinatown.

One must eat the entire Chinese fortune cookie for the fortune on the paper inside to come true, Chan said.

Although the fortune cookie originated in Southern California, Jung was influenced by a Chinese custom. When children were born, families would send out cake rolls with a message inside announcing the birth of the child.

Today, there are cookies that are sent to people with adult messages. X-rated fortune cookies were created by Edward Louie, who revolutionized cookie production with his machine.

Before Louie died, he worked with Kaiser Hospital. Louie gave fortune cookies to patients for encouragement, in an effort to eliminate the psychic effects caused by illness.

The fortune cookie was also used as a gimmick to help the Chinese hold on to their restaurants, during the repeal of the Prohibition in 1993.