Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food

Jennifer 8. Lee. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. Twelve, 2008.

Submitted by Jennifer (Wheeler) Rothschild '02

In this book, Lee explores three major things: the history of fortune cookies (they're actaully Japanese and internment had a big role in making them a Chinese restaurant favorite), the phenomenon that is Chinese-American food (as opposed to authentic Chinese food), and how Chinese-American food shapes the Chinese immigrant experience and vice versa.

Fascinating and extremely readable, Lee's journey starts with what happened when an unexpectedly large amount of people got 5 out of 6 numbers right on the Powerball lottery. It turns out they were playing fortune cookie numbers.

Lee traces Chinese restaurants around the world, sometimes following the cookies, sometimes the workers, sometimes the food. She has essays on the evolution of Chop Suey and General Tso's chicken (both very American dishes, while Kung Pao chicken is "authentic" Chinese.) She talks about the advent of delivery and the quest to find the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world. Lee delves into crimes committed on Chinese deliverymen in New York, and how most Chinese restaurants in the states are staffed from an agency under the Manhattan Bridge. She also has great examination on why Jewish people love Chinese food and the story of the Great Kosher Duck Scandal in 1989.

Some random facts from the book:

There are two Chinese restaurants for every McDonald's in the US.
Almost all fortunes are written by just two guys.
Cheap Chinese restaurants in South America are called chifa (chee-fah) which is derived from the Chinese words chi fan (chir fan) which means "to eat food"
Almost all of those little soy sauce packets are made by one company and don't have soy in them.

The writing is engaging and accessible, but well-researched. I highly recommend it, but plan on having Chinese food for dinner.


Anonymous said...

I'm hungry for Chinese food already, but will plan to stay away from those little "soy" packets.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Sounds very interesting and informative. I will read it...