Help! I’m a Prisoner in a Chinese Fortune Cookie Factory

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One of the rituals of ordering Chinese food, is the opening of the fortune cookie following the meal. The ritual is an American one, however, as the fortune cookie an American invention (early 1900’s), and is not traced back to China. In fact, although fortune cookies are now also made is China (since 1993), they are advertised and sold as “Genuine American Fortune Cookies.”

Originally, fortune cookies were made using chop sticks, but then in the early 1960’s the process became automated, with a machine placing a fortune inside the flat cookie, then folding it. Still, many fortune cookie factories have only semi-automated the process, with the end stages of inserting fortune and folding done by hand.

Many cities with large Chinese and Chinese-American communities have fortune cookie factories, and many provide tours.

If you are in San Francisco’s Chinatown, you can find a fortune cookie factory tour at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, located at 56 Ross Alley (Ross at Jackson). In this alley, historically known for its brothels and gambling, you can smell the fortune cookies being made. Just follow the wafting smell of sugar wafer, and you won’t be able to miss the fortune cookie factory.

At the factory, the cookies are still made the old fashioned way — by hand. The cookies themselves are formed by a batter poured into a mold, making a flat, 3-inch wafer. After these cook on a griddle-like, rotating machine, they are picked up either by hand, or with chop sticks, and a fortune is inserted into the center of the wafer. They are then folded, and placed in cup-like holders to cool. The work room is loud, filled with general noise and the back and forth chatter of the workers.

Although it is a simple process, it is rather hard to explain, and this video clip does a nice job of showing the process from start to finish.

And here are a few bits of trivia about the fortune cookie:

The Joy Luck Club (a novel by Amy Tan and later a movie) poked fun at the non-Chinese aspect of the fortune cookie by depicting Chinese immigrant women working in a fortune cookie factory in America.

• A large Powerball jackpot payout in New York City was thought to be fraud, but it was later discovered that the numbers picked were found in a fortune cookie.

• It is believed that you must eat the entire fortune cookie in order for the fortune to come true. Conversely, if it’s a negative fortune, you should not eat the cookie at all.

• A common way to “spice” up the fortune with an adult connotation is to add the phrase “in bed” or “between the sheets” at the end of fortune.

The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory tour is free, and you get to taste the cookies, too! It’s a quick tour, probably about 15-30 minutes, depending on the crowd. Kids and adults will both have fun.

Photo credit: SXC

Tags: b5media, family travel, flight attendant, Flyaway Cafe, Travel, Travel & Culture, Vacation, San Francisco, California, fortune cookies, Chinatown

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