reporter Jennifer 8. Lee's (the 8 connotes prosperity in Chinese) new book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, begins with a story about Powerball. In March 2005, the $84 million megalottery jackpot had generated a modest $11 million in ticket sales across 29 states, and officials anticipated three or four second-place winners and maybe one jackpot winner. Instead, there were 104 second-place winners who had selected theidentical six numbers. Where had all these winners gotten their numbers? From a fortune cookie. What started as Lee's initial search for the fortune cookie manufacturer became a search for the fortune cookie's history, which in turn raised questions about the origin and evolution of Chinese food in America.
With more Chinese restaurants in the U.S. than McDonald's, Burger King and KFC restaurants combined, it's obvious that Americans have a consuming passion for Chinese food, or more accurately phrased, Americanized Chinese food. There is no General Tso's chicken in China. Chop suey (as we know it, anyway) was invented here. Even the beloved, fabled and ever-entertaining fortune cookie is not Chinese in origin; it's not American either. How did these and other dishes, “ethnic” yet not too exotic, flavorful yet comforting, come to be? Lee traveled the world and conducted extensive research to find the answers and even goes so far as to identify the world's greatest Chineserestaurant outside of China (sorry, it is not in the U.S.).
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is enjoyable and revealing, and provides insight and an education into the American and Chinese cultures; it's also a tasty blend of thehistory and culture surrounding the rise in popularity of American Chinese food.
Ellen R. Marsden writes from Mason, Ohio.