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Thu Jul 20, 2017, 10:11 AM

Fortune Cookie Day: Jennifer 8. Lee's "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles"

"We now knew that the fortune cookie had originated in Japan, but there was one final mystery. ... Almost all the people who claimed to have created the American fortune cookie had Japanese roots -- so how had the Chinese managed to take over the fortune cookie business? 'When the Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II, they had to leave all their equipment behind,' Yasuko pointed out in Japanese. As her words were translated, all the pieces in my quest came together. ... I had a flashback to my first conversation with Sally Osaki ... her telling me that when she'd been a child the original fortune cookie messages had been in Japanese. But at one point they had become English: 'By the time we came out of the camp.' The fortune cookie had changed by the end of the war. I recalled that the Japanese-American confectionery shops -- Benkyodo, Fugetsu-do, Umeya -- had all closed when their owners were 'relocated.'

"The popularity of Chinese cuisine grew tremendously during World War II; after Japan invaded China and China became an American ally, the national perception of the Chinese threat gave way to sympathy. In addition, the wartime rationing of meat enhanced the appeal of Chinese dishes, which made a little meat go a long way. San Francisco's Chinatown quadrupled its business between 1941 and 1943. The tide of public opinion turned. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was repealed in December 1943, opening the door for an eventual flood of Chinese immigrants (and additional Chinese restaurant owners). In 1946, the United States Office of Price Administration delisted 'Chinese fortune tea cakes' from its price control list ... .

"Although the interned Japanese were released by 1945, it took years for the families to rebuild their lives. Many of the business owners had lost everything. It wasn't until 1948 that Benkyodo was up and running under family control, Gary Ono believes. During that time, a number of Chinese fortune cookie makers sprung into existence -- like Lotus, which opened in 1946. A sharp rise in demand at Chinese restaurants combined with a lack of Japanese bakers gave Chinese entrepreneurs an opportunity to step in. One of America's beloved confections emerged from one of the nation's darkest moments."

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