Monday, December 28, 2009

The fortune cookies murder

Patty here…

I recently spent a delightful evening at the Japanese American National Museum in L.A.’s Little Tokyo for a screening of the documentary “The Killing of a Chinese Cookie” from writer/director Derek Shimoda.

Before the screening, budding pastry chefs from The International Culinary School in Santa Monica participated in a dessert competition with only one rule—the ingredients had to include fortune cookies. The winner was a layered trifle-type concoction that wasn’t bad but my personal favorite was a mysterious pudding that was as light as dandelion fluff with a hint of sweetness that may not have been sugar. The creator refused to reveal even a hint about the ingredients, resisting all of my finely honed detective skills.

Everone received free copies of Joe Wang's The First Book of Tasteless Fortune Cookie Fortunes. Wang is a thirty-six year veteran of “a famous Chinese fortune cookie manufacturing company,” where he wrote fortunes. The book contains a few that were rejected by the Fortune Approval Committee, like “That which you admire the most about yourself will wrinkle and shrivel.”

Event organizers handed out Chinese take-out boxes containing a baby’s undershirt printed with fortunes that read, “A surprise will appear in my pants” and “A nap is in my future.” If you are looking for a hilarious gift for a new baby, check out this company.

The film features interviews with people steeped in the fortune cookie trade who all agree that few people in China have ever heard of a Chinese fortune cookie. The pastry is undeniably a U.S. citizen. The crux of the mystery explored in this film is who was the baker who invented the fortune cookie. Was he Chinese or Japanese? Did he live in Los Angeles or San Francisco? Author Wang believes Makoto Hagiwara first served the cookies at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in 1914. Others disagree. The film is a fluffy confection that could have easily won the aforementioned culinary contest. Listening to the filmmakers speak at the Q&A following the screening made me believe that they had loads of fun making this movie. Click here to watch the film.

Do you remember any of the more prophetic fortunes you got in a cookie? Like "You are doomed to be happy as a writer." Any fortune cookie traditions? Like reading each fortune aloud at the table and tagging on the words “in bed”?

Happy Monday (in bed)!


  1. somehow I like the rejected fortunes best, Patty.

    Here's one I got a couple of weeks ago: "Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well."

    It's awfully vague and general, but felt oh so appropriate right now.

  2. I just knew that there had to be a fortune approval committee out there somewhere. Thanks for confirming this for me, Patty.

  3. Louise, I can't believe they got all those words on one of those teeny tiny slips of paper but I like the sentiment. Rings true.

    Mims, I wonder how one gets a job as a Fortune Quality Control Manager. I wonder if it includes all the cookies you can eat?

  4. the first fortune cookie i was given was at a restaurant called 'sun hung heung' on washington street, san francisco. i don't suppose the place exists any more because this was back in 1981. the message read: 'you are contemplating some action which will bring credit upon you'. i have been contemplating for almost 30 years now - but, hell, no credit! how much longer do you think i should hold on to it?


  5. I like the quote about marriage, Patty. When I lived in England, the joke was to read the fortune and then say, "between the sheets." It was a hoot, especially if a beverage or two had been consumed with the meal!
    Very interesting post!

  6. Forever, Sybille!! I give you a lot of credit for your many accomplishments. Keep up the good work.

    The "between the sheets" tag line is quite similar to "in bed." Produces much hilarity around the table.