Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Japanese Fortune Cookie Debacle

Nearly a year ago, I posted a story about "fortuneless cookies" - ie. fortune cookies without the fortune, cuz really, people like fortune cookies to eat cuz they taste good don't they, and you don't really need the fortune. That's just gravy. The fortune is gravy. Good fortune is beef-flavoured. Misfortune is liver-flavoured. Or is that the same thing? Beef-flavoured is not good fortune for the beef, that's for sure. And when, exactly, do cows change to beef? When does a pig decide to call itself pork? And when does a lamb finally become nuttin but mutton?

Anyway, that's not the point of this story. The point is more like this: you always thought fortune cookies were Chinese didn't you? Well, here's an article in the NY Times that indicates they originated in Japan! Of course, it's a Japanese woman, Yasuko Nakamachi, who's making the claim. But she does seem to have researched it pretty well.

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.”

Ms. Nakamachi, a folklore and history graduate student at Kanagawa University outside Tokyo, has spent more than six years trying to establish the Japanese origin of the fortune cookie, much of that at National Diet Library (the Japanese equivalent of the Library of Congress). She has sifted through thousands of old documents and drawings. She has also traveled to temples and shrines across the country, conducting interviews to piece together the history of fortune-telling within Japanese desserts.

So there you have it. I'm sure the Chinese are not happy to hear that dessert is the weakest part of the menu. Come on! Let's all go have some fruit cocktail tofu thing! (Actually, I like that fruit cocktail tofu thing...) And now, the Japanese are claiming their biggest and best-known cultural artifact that is so completely Murrican it's almost as Murrican as cheeseburgers. Go figure. Is nothing sacred?

Meanwhile, nobody has taken up my suggestion of fortuneless cookies, as far as I know. But here's another idea. I'm currently looking for a Japanese partner, preferably a young woman named Yukiko Fortune, so we can start up our new business Miss Fortune Cookies. Which, in the zen dada way, will carry predictions of disaster. Something like: Your lucky lottery numbers are: 6 22 44 69 Miss Fortunately, someone else won with those numbers last week.

Digg! diigo it


Anonymous said...

So that's how the cookie crumbles!

Wild thing clicked up Larry Keiler's bio, and from there clicked on mental blog. Got through that way without the below zero effect. Mmmmmm, see if it publishes.

Anonymous said...

Now, ain't that strange? Wonder if it is just a fluke, or if this is THE WAY and THE TRUTH?

Just to think that fortune cookies are about the only thing in Canada now that are NOT made in China.

Larry Keiler said...

It's a strange world where the largest fortune cookie bakery is in Brooklyn, of all places.

WT, thanks for your loyalty, trying any which way to get to the blog.

Anonymous said...

Brooklyn eh? But from where do they get their ingredients?

I like fortune cookies. It's fortunate for the fortune cookie bakeries that so many people do like fortune cookies. Bet they make a fortune.

Thanks for tuning us in to that story.

Ever heard of Fort Uning?

Help! I've written and I can't get up!