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Not Made in China: Fortune Cookies

Japanese Fortune Cookie

Japanese Fortune Cookie

According to an article in the NY Times today, it turns out that fortune cookies—the desert treat popularly served in Chinese restaurants—are actually of Japanese origin.

Japanese bakers have been making omikuji senbei (“written fortune crackers”), in Kyoto for generations. Fortune cracker making was brought to the west coast of this country by early Japanese immigrants. After these Japanese families were removed to the internment camps during WWII, it was Chinese families that took over the production of the cookies.

After the war, returning American servicemen were served fortune cookies in California. Upon arriving home, they asked their local Chinese restaurants why they didn’t serve the fortune cookies.

Still popular in Kyoto, Japan, the “written fortune crackers” are similar in shape, but differ in taste. They are bigger and browner, and not as sweet, being flavored with miso and sesame instead of butter and vanilla.

One bakery, Sohonke Hogyokudo, has used the same 23 fortunes for decades. (Wonton Foods, the American cookie maker has over 10,000 fortunes in its database.) Hogyokudo’s fortunes tend to be more poetic in theme than prophetic.

But a cookie opened in another local Kyoto shop contained the advice, “To ward off lower back pain or joint problems, undertake some at-home measures like yoga.”