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

3.63  ·  Rating Details ·  3,765 Ratings  ·  768 Reviews
If you think McDonald's is the most ubiquitous restaurant experience in America, consider that there are more Chinese restaurants in America than McDonalds, Burger Kings, and Wendys combined. New York Times reporter and Chinese-American (or American-born Chinese). In her search, Jennifer 8 Lee traces the history of Chinese-American experience through the lens of the food. ...more
Paperback, Reprint Edition, 320 pages
Published March 23rd 2009 by Twelve (first published January 1st 2008)
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Mar 10, 2008 Lena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a very tasty book.

Jennifer 8 Lee is a first generation Chinese-American who became obsessed with the interface between Chinese restaurants and American culture after learning that over 100 people had gotten five out of six winning Powerball numbers by playing the lucky numbers that came with their fortune cookies. Her obsession has resulted in a delightful cultural history with a tiny bit of personal memoir thrown in.

Before reading this book, I had no idea that there are twice as many C
Mar 02, 2008 Melody rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: popular-history, food
The basic premise behind this book is an interesting one: using American-Chinese cuisine as an object lesson, Jennifer 8 Lee wants to show that Chinese-ness is a cultural value that can fuse with almost any other culture and yet still remain distinctively Chinese.

Unfortunately, the book is terribly edited. It's at least 100 pages too long, repetitive, and poorly organized. She ends the book two full chapters before it actually ends, which makes the final 30 or so pages of the book feel utterly
Mauoijenn ~ *Mouthy Jenn* ~
This book was all over. Badly edited, poorly written and a total waste for 3 hours of my life, when I finally closed the damn book for good. Bad, just plain bad.
Lincoln Lo
Mar 12, 2008 Lincoln Lo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Chinese Americans and Anyone who questions the "stuff" they sell at Panda Express and Stix
Recommended to Lincoln by: NPR
Wow... It was such an interesting read. I will recommend this book to anyone who is 1) Chinese American 2) ate at Panda Express or Pick-up-Stix 3) wonder who actually wrote the fortunes in fortune cookies. I started reading the book with limited expectation as to how much it could enlighten me. After reading it, I realized that the book has actually taught me a lot about the origin of things that we don't understand about "american-chinese" food that sometimes may not be important enough for us ...more
Feb 28, 2008 Donald rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyone knows I like Chinese food. This delightful book explores the history of American-Chinese food, from chop suey to fortune cookies to General Tso's chicken.

What might appear to be a rather dry topic, turns out to be hysterical. For example, not long ago, over 100 people won Powerball all over the country. How could this statistically impossible thing happen? Fraud? Nope--people were betting using the numbers suggested on fortune cookies! (Something I will begin to do, I might add :-)Chop
Eh. I don't know how much of my lukewarm reaction to blame on my life context at the time. I struggled to read this book during a seven-day stretch with four kids home from school, no electricity, mile-long gas lines, etc. Not that I don't realize how lucky I was that things weren't worse for me in the aftermath of the serious storm we just experienced. But sticking strictly to the book, I think it may have required a more engaging read to provide me with the distraction I desperately needed. Or ...more
Apr 12, 2008 carrietracy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, yum
I waited longer for this book than any other I have ever reserved at my local public library, including the final Harry Potter book. When I finally got the book, I understood why. Despite the tantilizing topic of Chinese food, the book is actually not very engaging. Each chapter told a different story, but within the chapter the writing jumped all over the place. I also felt that the style was a bit lacking in places, as though I was reading a high school student's thesis rather than a professio ...more
I was pretty shocked too. A four star bestseller? With the word “Chronicles” in the title, no less? Ms. Lee exceeds the expectations of her campy cover in this roundabout study of the Chinese Restaurant business in America. The incredible saturation of new immigrants in this business allows the author to delve into human trafficking stories, follow families across continents and generations, through the US legal system and a vast web of Chinatowns across the globe. She doesn’t shy away from the ...more
Apr 19, 2008 Betsy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Not as much info on egg foo young as I'd like (just kidding) but this casual cultural history of American-Chinese food offered entertaining insights not only into the origins (often American) of dishes like chop suey and general tso's chicken but into the life of Chinese immigrants in general and Chinese immigrant restaurant owners in particular (not an easy life... especially for the kids.)The author travels all over the world (from small-town China to small-town Georgia) to try to better under ...more
Pamela Pickering
3.5 stars. An interesting historical and sociological look at the Chinese restaurant in (mainly) America and elsewhere. Wow! I learned some new things about the Chinese restaurant business, for example the huge "huge clearing house" type of network to find jobs in Chinese restaurants for Chinese immigrants and what many Chinese have to go through to even get to America. Some pay as much as $60K just to get here (mainly for "fees"). The next time I sit in Chinese restaurant to eat I will do so wi ...more
Oct 20, 2012 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Three years ago, I put “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles” on my TBR list solely based on the sub-title, “Adventures in the world of Chinese Food”. Was it a culinary travelogue? A series of tales about meeting famous Chinese Chefs (e.g. Martin Yan, Ming Tsai, or even Joyce Chen)? Or perhaps a personal history of learning to cook Chinese dishes? Or may be it’s a novel? It was like an unopened fortune cookie.

Fast-forward 40 months and as part of my struggle to shrink (or at least reduce the rate of gr
"Fortune Cookie" really is several books in one, with the idea of fortune cookies coming back to somewhat tie the stories of the book together. however, the stories, while related, do not feel connected leaving me with the feeling that the parts are greater than the whole.

I can tell from reading this book that Ms Lee will eventually become a writer I will love to read however she isn't quite there yet. In fortune cookie she was able to write an emotional, heart wrenching chapter on Chinese huma
Nov 12, 2016 Derek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Amazing Book Club of Doom book for NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2016.

Just to clarify: you won't find any recipes in this book. What you will find is the author's journey to discover the answers to such culinary questions as: Where did the fortune cookie originate? Who was General Tso, and why does China remember him differently than America? and, of course, Why is Chinese food so popular?

Jennifer 8. Lee has a strong journalistic voice, and in her quest to explore all things regarding Chinese food, she
Dear TFCC,

It's not you, it's me.

Okay... it's you.


I love Chinese food, non-fiction, foodie reads, the friends who championed you and insisted that I read you. But you read like a string of weekly serials, each hammering home the same point, that Chinese food is not from China, that Chinese food is more telling of the American history that has shaped it and the exported elements of American culture that other countries can identify.

But you said it to me again, and again, and again. And yo
Jan 12, 2009 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was really surprised by this book. I didn't expect to like it. Why did I select it from the shelf in the library? Who knows? But, I really was intrigued by this study of Chinese immigration to the United States as reflected in Chinese cusine. I was totally unprepared for the fact that there are more Chinese restaurants in the United States than McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's combined. I knew that chop suey was invented in the U.S. to appeal to American palates, but I didn't know that for ...more
Sep 21, 2011 Kipahni rated it liked it

I am currently on MSG overload so pardon the caps.
Nov 06, 2008 J. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: ... chinese & americans ...
Conversational and a bit rambling, really a set of essays on the uniquely American invention of the Chinese Takeout & Delivery establishment. This is a Civilization Clash story, one that revels in the wide disparities and ironic juxtapositions of asian culture in the american context.

First, though, something from the news, not the book. In October of 2008 a Chinese Restauarant in upstate NY was closed, having been found with a complete Deer carcass being butchered in its kitchen. What were t
Ann Canann
Aug 06, 2009 Ann Canann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cooking-food
My dad was a chef in San Francisco with an interest in all cuisines, and I taught in China, so I already knew the great secret of the origin of fortune cookies, and something of the subculture of American/Chinese Restaurants. That didn’t lesson my fascination with the book. There is much to learn. I had to give up the cherished belief that May you live in interesting times is a Chinese proverb. The fortune cookie theme is what holds together these “Adventures in the World of Chinese Food.” The m ...more
Aug 27, 2013 Tanya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a confession to make... I am a slow reader. No truly, I keep taking those online reading tests and I continually test at a middle school level. I have above average retention rates but my speed is turtle slow. With that in mind it's no wonder it took me a month and a half to read this book. Non-fictions, no matter how interesting, always take me a long time finish.

I picked this one up because I was continually arguing with people about whether or not Orange Chicken and General Tso's was
This should've been a much better book than it turned out to be. It's clear the author did a metric ton of personal research, but also clear that it was a struggle to organize those experiences into a readable tale; the chapters are choppy and transitions non-existent, the attempts at scholarship are poorly annotated.

For instance, in Chapter 7, where Lee inexplicably turns from a food writer to a crime reporter, this statement makes an appearance: "Chinese deliverymen are one of the most vulner
Apr 08, 2012 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great history about the evolution of Americanized Chinese Cuisine. Most of the segments are presented in a compelling candid storytelling travelogue style.

One of my biggest takeaways from this was perspective on how ethnic food has fit into urban adventurism since the rise of the affluent middle class (French Revolution?). Chinese food has slowly evolved to satisfy this need for adventurism in the US, starting with Chop Suey and Chow Mein and evolving into General Tso and now expanding farther
Jan 06, 2011 Travis rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009
A while back I watched Lee talk about some of the stuff in this book and found it really interesting. The book was not quite what I'd expected based on that. I thought it would have a little more about Chinese food around the world, but the focus was mostly American Chinese food with one chapter about other countries. There was also way more about fortune cookies than necessary, I think. She spread that part out really long. But overall it was a really interesting book and a neat look at the his ...more
People don't seem to have very good opinions about author blurbs. I, personally, love them. Some of the best and most unexpected books I've read in the past year, I've been drawn to by seeing that one or more of the blurbs on the jacket was from an author I enjoy. Same with this one. Granted, I was almost through the book before I glanced at them, but when I saw that the two Blurbs on the back were from Sasha Issenberg and Mary Roach, my feelings about blurbs were validated yet again.

Wow, I digr
Dec 02, 2008 Michelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book in one day, albeit a very long day which started in Paris and ended in Birmingham, AL. And it was also Thanksgiving, though in transit. I found it completely fascinating.

I am a big fan of American Chinese food, or rather Americanized Asian food in general -- Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and the variations of Malaysian/Burmese/Tibetan, etc. -- but had never given much thought about the behind-the-scenes nature of the restaurants. This book looks at everything: from the development of
Feb 15, 2012 Cathie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fft-bc, 2013-rc-goal
This is a telling account of the author’s journey toward her obsession with the fortune cookie and its origin stemming from the not-so-normal, one-too-many Powerball winners who attest their winnings based upon the numbers given on their respective fortune cookie.

But the book expands further on America’s take on Chinese food - the origin of General Tso’s chicken and Chop Suey as well as the origin of Chinese takeout and what she considers the best authentic Chinese restaurant in the world, a ta
Aug 20, 2012 Merredith rated it really liked it
This is a really interesting nonfiction read. The author put a tremendous amount of research and travel, all over the world, to study chinese-american food. It's like watching one of the food channels, we learn about the history and origin of the fortune cookies (they were japanese!), general tsao's chicken, and more. We learn about soy sauce that isn't really soy sauce (i'm glad to know i've been using the real kind, not the flavored chemical stuff ick). We learn about the history and current s ...more
Aug 10, 2012 Tiffany rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read this book for my book club and, while I am glad I had the opportunity to read it, I did not care for it very much. Although there were some interesting parts, overall it was a little too disorganized and repetitive for my liking. I did learn quite a bit in terms of the historical and cultural aspects of American Chinese food. I found the parts about human smuggling, the Powerball lucky number winners, and the history of the fortune cookie to be the most interesting. A lot of the other par ...more
Jul 11, 2015 grundoon rated it liked it
2.5 I don't know that I'd ever previously encountered a book that is actually lesser than the sum of its parts. Just about every chapter features a (random) topic that is inherently, or potentially, interesting. Unfortunately, they are almost universally rehashes of something she read somewhere, riddled with ignorance, myopic conjecture presented as fact, and mind-bogglingly ridiculous process. Yet despite the complete lack of thematic coherence, her ability to avoid any actual description of Ch ...more
Jan 31, 2009 Jeannette rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. Totally interesting and informative about all the ins and outs of Chinese food. I loved knowing that there are employment agencies in New York's Chinatown that sends out workers throughout the country based solely on three numbers: the monthly salary, the area code where the restaurant is located and the number of hours it takes to travel by bus from New York City to the job. Plus, the Lee rates the best Chinese restaurant in the world as from the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, ...more
May 19, 2013 Chung-yee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An easy and humorous read as the author discovers that the fortune cookie, General Tso chicken and Choy Suey are not Chinese. Lots of information are brought to light about the fortune cookie and its industry - there are actual fortune cookie writers and the challenges they face in trying to offend no one, and the numbers on the back of the fortune cookie slips is still picked by hand. Also, the book touches on migration of Chinese workers, human trafficking and the global appeal of Chinese food ...more
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LSPL Book Junkies: General Tso's Nachos 1 4 Oct 28, 2015 12:21PM  
LSPL Book Junkies: Information about the number 8 1 2 Oct 28, 2015 10:53AM  
LSPL Book Junkies: Jennifer 8. Lee TED talk 1 4 Oct 28, 2015 10:43AM  
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Jennifer 8. Lee, the daughter of Chinese immigrants and a fluent speaker of Mandarin Chinese herself, grew up eating her mother's authentic Chinese food in her family's New York City kitchen before graduating from Harvard in 1999, with a degree in applied mathematics and economics, and studying at Beijing University. At the age of twenty-four, she was hired by the New York Times, where she is a me ...more
More about Jennifer 8. Lee...

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“Food is an intimate language that everyone understands, everyone shares. It is the primary ambassador of first contact between cultures, one that transcends spoken language. Food crosses cultural barriers. It bridges oceans. Becoming competent in a foreign language takes a lot of time, and learning a culture’s history and literature requires a great deal of effort. But everyone can immediately have an opinion on food.” 1 likes
“Chinese have a bigger sense of self-sacrifice. Americans are about self-enjoyment, not self-sacrifice,” he’d” 0 likes
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