Fortune Cookies

Fortune Cookies

“You never hesitate to tackle the most difficult problems.” That was what I read on a fortune cookie message last week. Along with it came “six lucky numbers” for playing lottery—which I never do.

Years ago I was introduced to Chinese restaurants here in the States. I still enjoy an occasional meal with hot and sour soup, steamed rice and whatever main dish that I might try. My stomach is ecumenical—I like to try anything folks eat. My appetite for Asian cuisines expanded while I was assigned in the Philippines. For years I lived in a community in Manila where there were friars from five countries—namely, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, China, Japan.

The first time I travelled to Hong Kong for an international conference I was surprised to learn that restaurants there did not present fortune cookies after a meal. Accustomed to fortune cookies in the United States, I learned that fortune cookies are not a part of mainland Chinese culture.

When I returned to Manila, one Japanese friar in our community informed me that fortune cookies are a custom that developed in the Kyoto area of Japan. The Chinese friars in our Manila community never heard of fortune cookies until they encountered them in a Filipino-American Chinese eatery in Manila.

Whatever their origin, fortune cookies are a conversation point for many who eat at a Chinese restaurant in the United States. I learned on the internet that in 1983 San Francisco conducted a mock trial, as a publicity stunt, to determine the origin of fortune cookies. The trial found that it was a Japanese restaurant owner who popularized the custom. During World War II, while Japanese immigrants were imprisoned in “internment camps” in California, Chinese restaurants started producing the sweet little cookies with their message of fortune baked inside.

All of which goes to prove that things are not always what we think. What fortunate surprises have you had?

Photo Credit:  Artyshot


About the Author

Dan Kroger, O.F.M., a native of Cincinnati, joined the Franciscans in 1967 and was ordained in 1973. He taught high school and served in rural parishes in the Philippines. Dan earned a Ph.D. in Christian ethics at Notre Dame. He also taught at De La Salle University, Manila, until he was assigned to his present post as publisher/CEO at Franciscan Media in 2006.