Tag Archives: chinese

Once and for all, fortune cookies are not Chinese

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

The first time I ever heard of a fortune cookie was when I read Fifteen by Beverly Cleary. I was 8, and at the time was attending an American school in Shanghai. There’s a part of the book where the protagonist goes on a date in Chinatown, and I was fascinated. Chinatown sounded awesome: like a Disney version of the very un-glamorous reality of living in mainland China in the mid-80s. And what on earth where these “fortune cookies” they spoke of?

(Later in life I would become equally fascinated by another supposedly Chinese thing: those cardboard Chinese food takeout boxes I would see on American sitcoms playing on Hong Kong TV. Hong Kong was thoroughly wed to styrofoam, so cardboard seemed oddly barabaric to me.)

So if fortune cookies aren’t Chinese, where did they come from? According to the New York Times, one researcher believes they’re actually from – wait for it – Japan!

Her prime pieces of evidence are the centuries-old small family bakeries making obscure fortune cookie-shaped crackers by hand near a temple outside Kyoto. She has also turned up many references to the cookies in Japanese literature and history, including an 1878 etching of a man making them in a bakery – decades before the first reports of American fortune cookies.

The idea that fortune cookies come from Japan is counterintuitive, to say the least. “I am surprised,” said Derrick Wong, the vice president of the largest fortune cookie manufacturer in the world, Wonton Food, based in Brooklyn. “People see it and think of it as a Chinese food dessert, not a Japanese food dessert,” he said. But, he conceded, “The weakest part of the Chinese menu is dessert.”

Amen to that. Red bean soup? Bleah!

Early on, Chinese-owned restaurants discovered the cookies, too. Ms. Nakamachi speculates that Chinese-owned manufacturers began to take over fortune cookie production during World War II, when Japanese bakeries all over the West Coast closed as Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to internment camps.

Mr. Wong pointed out: “The Japanese may have invented the fortune cookie. But the Chinese people really explored the potential of the fortune cookie. It’s Chinese-American culture. It only happens here, not in China.”

Alberto VO5 hair wax makes you like, totally anti-establishment

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

I actually think this ad is kind of cute. But hopefully people will realize that this isn’t quite representative anymore of China today.

The art direction is pretty accurate, puke-green paint on the wall and all. When I lived in Shanghai in the mid-80s, local schools really did look like this. Students had long ago ditched the grey Mao suits, but the little red scarves were still a must.

Thanks to HighJive for the tip!

The dumpling manifesto

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

dumplingsTim Wu just wrote a hilariously obsessive column for Slate bemoaning the poor quality of dumplings available in the U.S.

Jen, I feel like this is such a you kind of post. Not only is it about food, but it’s just begging for some of Jen Chau’s patented corny puns. ;)

Dumpling rage, like road rage, strikes without warning. My first attack came in my mid-20s, while dining at Raku, a Washington, D.C., “pan-Asian” restaurant. I made the mistake of ordering something called Chinese dumplings. Out came a bamboo steamer containing what resembled aged marshmallows—dumplings cooked so long they were practically glued to the bottom of the container. Try as I might, I could not pry them loose, until one ripped in half, yielding a small meatball of dubious composition.

It was an outrage. To my friends’ embarrassment, I stood up and shouted at our waiter:

“What are these?”

“Dumplings,” he said.

“These,” I said, “are not dumplings. The skin is too thick. The meat is too small. It’s been cooked too long. The folding is done all wrong.” My friends begged me to stop, and the manager threatened to call the police.