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

3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  2,817 ratings  ·  668 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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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...more
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...more
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...more
Lincoln Lo
Apr 06, 2008 Lincoln Lo rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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 love food histories. My favorite is probably Why We Eat What We Eat: How Columbus Changed the Way the World Eats by Raymond Sokolov, which examines how the discovery of the New World radically changed cuisine. Like Sokolov's great volume, Jennifer 8 Lee's The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is a detailed examination of how we arrived in our current culinary landscape.

Lee begins with a simple question: where did fortune cookies originate, and can they really be called Chinese? She returns to this ce...more
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
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
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
May 02, 2008 Betsy rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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

I am currently on MSG overload so pardon the caps.
Jan 06, 2011 Travis rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Ann Canann
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
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...more
"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...more
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
Oct 20, 2012 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
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
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
I checked out this book from the library for purely research purposes, and found that I couldn't put it down. This delightful book explores the role of Chinese food in the American psyche while the authors pursues questions such as - are fortune cookies really Chinese? And who IS General Tso and why do we love his chicken? Do you need a reason to read this? I'll paraphrase a great line from the book - if America really is about apple pies and Chevrolets, ask yourself - when is the last time you...more
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
I learned so much from this book and given that I'm Chinese and into food, that says quite a lot. Interesting stuff about the origin of fortune cookies, how Jews and their love for Chinese food came about, Chinese immigrants in the restaurant business, the author's search for the greatest chinese restaurant in the world, American vs. Asian soy sauces, etc. The author's writing style makes for an easy read. Highly recommend it if you want to learn more about Chinese food and culture.
Wonderful insight into the American-Chinese food culture. However, the last 30-40 pages should have either been deleted or incorporated earlier- it was a struggle to push through at the end. That's a shame for a book that had such a strong start.
I told a friend this book is the finest of Jenny 8 Lee's work, all in one spot. An inaccurate statement -- she's done great writing on many other subjects -- but I found this book to be a real treat. It drags a little in two parts: the Georgia chapter (too long) and the worldwide search (interesting but easy to get bogged down). But the stories she uncovers and the fascinating history of American Chinese food as its own culinary subset more than makes up for it.

Also, I work for her (unnamed) for...more
Brendan Rogan
I don't like Chinese food. I've always had a theory that all Chinese food came from a large factory in New Jersey. So I read this book in hopes of proving my theory. Unfortunately, there is not a chapter dedicated to the Jersey factory. But to be fair, there also wasn't a chapter saying there was not one site for all Chinese I'm sticking to my guns. Whether you like the low-quality meat/vegetable combinations known as Chinese food in our country or not, this book is still entertaining...more
Matthew Fitzgerald
What can I say, a fun book about Chinese-America, China, American Chinese food, and the links between the them that span the globe. It was a fun and light read, like a good meal of steamed veggies at your local Chinese takeout; hardly filling, just barely satisfying, but different enough to be worth it. The opening chapter’s framework, involving a nation-wide hunt for lotto winners who got their lucky numbers off of fortune cookies, lost focus incredibly quickly. I was fine with following a book...more
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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
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