It’s customary in numerous restaurants for diners to obtain a little treat v their check: mints, hard candy, sometimes also chocolate. Yet at many Chinese restaurants about the joined States, patrons acquire something a tiny different: a Pac-Man shaped, vanilla-flavored cookie comprise a finger-sized on slide of paper printed through a pithy happiness or aphorism.

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While plenty of Americans associate these fortune cookies v Chinese restaurants—and by extension, Chinese culture—they room actually more readily traceable to 19th-century Japan and 20th-century America.


Women working at the Lotus Chinese luck Cookie bakery in san Francisco, c. 1977.

Clem Albers/San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

As far back as the 1870s, part confectionary shops near Kyoto, Japan brought a cracker through the very same folded shape and also a happiness tucked right into the bend, rather of its hollow inside. It’s called the “tsujiura senbei,” or “fortune cracker,” according to Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the world of Chinese Food, which recounts the background of the cookie.

The Japanese cracker, Lee wrote, was larger and darker, made v sesame and also miso instead of the vanilla and also butter offered to flavor fortune cookies found in modern-day Chinese restaurants in America. Lee quote Japanese researcher Yasuko Nakamachi, who stated she discovered these cookie at a generations-old family members bakery near a popular Shinto shrine just external of Kyoto in the late 1990s. Nakamachi also uncovered storybooks indigenous 1878 v illustrations of an apprentice who worked in a senbei save making the tsujiura senbei, along with other type of crackers.

Lee states the happiness cookie likely arrived in the joined States along with Japanese immigrant who concerned Hawaii and also California in between the 1880s and early 1900s, after ~ the Chinese exclusion Act’s expulsion that Chinese workers left a demand for cheap labor. Japanese bakers set up shop in locations such together Los Angeles and San Francisco, do miso and sesame-flavored “fortune cookie-ish” crackers, among other treats.

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One the the many oft-repeated beginning stories that the American happiness cookie cites the Japanese Tea Garden in mountain Francisco’s gold Gate Park as the very first known U.S. Restaurant to serve the treat. The Tea Garden sourced their cookie from a neighborhood bakery dubbed Benkyodo, which cases to have pioneered the vanilla and also butter flavoring, and also to have actually invented a maker sometime about 1911 come mass create the cookies. But, claims Lee, several various other sources have also claimed to create the cookie around the exact same time, consisting of three Los Angeles-based immigrant-run businesses: Fugetsu-Do confectionary in the city’s tiny Tokyo, Japanese snack manufacturer Umeya and the Hong Kong Noodle Company.