Food

What’s Your Fortune?

BY Anita L. Sherman TIMEFebruary 23, 2022 PRINT

I’m a big fan of Chinese food. I’m also a fan of fortune cookies, and I generally grab a handful when I pick up an order.

My husband and I generally save these little crisp, sweet, folded morsels until the end of the meal and then share our ‘fortunes’ with one another. I thought his latest was pretty good.

“Think like a man of action, and act like a man of thought.”

I was quite amused when I opened my fortune cookie and carefully removed the thin piece of paper.

“It read: Warning: Do not eat your fortune.”

What?

This was a first in my decades of opening fortune cookies. Usually, there’s a proverb of some sort, some sage advice, or a whimsical reference to future wealth. But a cautionary warning? Was I to take this literally, was this some philosophical statement about not purposefully destroying my future, or was I not supposed to eat this cookie?

Then I looked on the reverse side, and in addition to my “Lucky Numbers,” there was, in much tinier print, another message.

It read: “How about another Fortune?”

And then it referred me to a website, SecondFortune.com.

So, I went there and my alternate fortune was that I had good business sense. Hm, I wonder.

The,Fortune,Cookie,On,Plate
The real history of the fortune cookie may surprise you. (Adriana Marteva/Shutterstock)

Where It All Started

The whole experience got me thinking about fortune cookies. Many of you may already know this, but for those of you that may not have given it any thought—until now—fortune cookies didn’t come from China. They aren’t inherently part of Chinese cuisine. They are yet another foodie marketing ploy that was created in the early 1900s.

According to the National Museum of American History, it was 1906 when Suyeichi Okamura, an immigrant from Japan, started Benkyodo, a confectionary store in San Francisco. Japanese fortune cookies, considered a regional delicacy, are much larger than the ones we’re familiar with today. He supplied them to Makoto Hagiwara, who ran the Japanese Tea Garden at the Golden Gate Park.

They were the sole suppliers of the cookies until the outbreak of World War II, when Japanese Americans in California were interned in camps. It was then that Chinese businessmen saw an opportunity—an opening in the market. They began producing fortune cookies and selling them to Chinese restaurants.

The rest is history, and our association with fortune cookies and Chinese restaurants continues today.

Enterprising Entrepreneurs

Producing billions of fortune cookies, I noted on the wrapper that my fortune cookie was made by the world’s leading fortune cookie manufacturer, Wonton Food.

Similar to Okamura, Wonton Food was founded by Ching Sun Wong, who immigrated from Guangdong, China to the United States in the ’60s. His family-owned company started manufacturing noodles in the basement of a small store in New York’s Chinatown in 1973.

Today, they have plants in New York, Texas, and Tennessee. Their products are enjoyed in the United States and internationally and include noodles, wrappers, and the ever-popular fortune cookie that, by the way, you can get in a variety of flavors, including vanilla, chocolate, citrus, and tri-flavored.

The messaging part of the fortune cookie has gotten quite clever. You can have special notes included if you’re hosting a corporation annual meeting or an extravagant birthday celebration.

A unique partnering happened in 2020, when New York-based nonprofit F.Y. Eye (producing message-driven communications) got together with Wonton Food, producing fortune cookies that encouraged people to be part of the census.

Opening your cookie at that time, you would find a message like this: “Don’t count calories. Be Counted. Census2020.”

I like the whole notion of the fortune cookie. Other cultures have adopted their own versions. One enterprising couple in Arizona started making “dichos” in 2008. Shaped like small tacos, “dichos” contain their own special little sayings that are popular in Mexican culture. There are no lottery or lucky numbers, but words of wisdom are there to ponder in both English and Spanish.

“A cat that sleeps will catch no mice.”

“Health and happiness create beauty.”

Try Your Luck?

I’ve always been used to the fortune cookie that contains those series of numbers. I’ll occasionally buy a lottery ticket, but I’m not a Mega Millions player, and left to my own devices, I’m not sure what series of numbers I would come up with.

But perhaps I should pay more attention.

As reported by National Public Radio, a North Carolina veteran played his fortune cookie numbers “on a whim” in late January. What luck! He won a $4 million prize.

I can see them now, Gabriel Fierro and his wife, having a pleasant Chinese dinner at the Red Bowl Asian Bistro in Charlotte, North Carolina. They open their cookies and he decides—just because or he feels like it—to use those numbers.

And why not? He added $1 to make it a Megaplier ticket multiplying any win.

His five numbers matched the numbers on the little white balls. That million-dollar win multiplied by four gave him $4 million—the largest win in the history of online play in the state.

I read later that after taxes, he took home a little more than $2.8 million, but I’m sure he has no problems starting out 2022 with that stroke of good fortune.

In addition to fortune cookies, I’m also a fan of new beginnings, new starts, serendipitous moments, and the magic of the unexpected—especially when Lady Luck comes to call.

Fortune cookies are a delightful mouthful or two of sheer delight. Sugary and crunchy, they’re the perfect ending to that plate of sesame chicken, fried rice, and beef with scallops. And the best part is that thin sliver of paper, printed on both sides. It’s a momentary bit of whimsy, a little surprise at the end of a meal, a saying to get you thinking and bring a smile to your face.

What’s your fortune?

Anita L. Sherman is an award-winning journalist who has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for local papers and regional publications in Virginia. She now works as a freelance writer and is working on her first novel. She is the mother of three grown children and grandmother to four, and she resides in Warrenton, Va. Anita can be reached at anitajustwrite@gmail.com
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