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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

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  4,491 ratings  ·  858 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), Jennifer 8 Lee, traces the history of Chinese-American experience through the lens of the food. In a compellin ...more
Hardcover, 1st Edition, 307 pages
Published February 20th 2008 by Twelve (first published January 1st 2008)
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Average rating 3.67  · 
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Mar 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 rated it did not like it
Shelves: food, popular-history
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
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 12, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: yum, non-fiction
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
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
Oct 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 19, 2008 rated it liked it
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
May 04, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
They say a book comes to you at a certain time for a certain reason. A Jewish tennis friend told me about this book on the tennis courts one day. She said it’s all about why Jewish people love Chinese food. I thought, I’m not too interested… Then one day she rang my doorbell and there she was with the book. I put it in the drawer under the TV and it sat there for about five years. One day we were watching a documentary on San Francisco Chinatown and it had a segment on why Jewish people love Chi ...more
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is a celebration of the Chinese people and our “American stir fry” of a country - how cultures collide to make something great. It tells astonishing stories that bring us deep into China and deep into the bowels of our own country, with compassion and empathy along the way - all tributes to the power of the immigrant spirit. My only criticism is that the book felt episodic and not as cohesive as I would’ve liked. But considering the breadth of topics covered - from human trafficking to ...more
Sarah Nealy
Jul 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2020
A fascinating ethnogeographic study forged by a curiosity in the connection between Lottery winners and Fortune Cookies.
Jan 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it this much. Highly recommend!
Dec 03, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 01, 2011 added it
Shelves: 2011, couldnt-finish
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
Jul 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.

I am currently on MSG overload so pardon the caps.
It all started with an amazing coincidence - the March 9, 2005 Powerball drawing had 110 second place winners. Every set of numbers that were played were gotten from a fortune cookie and the author was fascinated and interviewed many of the winners from across the United States. And then she got curious about where fortune cookies came from and eventually how Chinese cuisine has changed and been integrated into not only America but in other countries.

First of all, fortune cookies are not really
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fast and entertaining, had no idea about the popularity of Chinese American restaurants in suburban and rural America -- and how much the industry drives migration patterns.
Feb 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: food, 2018
I honestly skim a few of the chapter's in this book. I love food and do get excited reading about it. But some of the content just wasnt interesting.
Mar 31, 2020 rated it liked it
It was a fun read! I feel like I learned a few things, and I found myself smiling at different points.
Nov 06, 2008 rated it liked it
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 they
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Jennifer 8. Lee asks a fair question about the epitome of culinary America: When’s the last time you had apple pie – and when’s the last time you had Chinese takeout?

Her quest for the birth of the fortune cookie ended up taking her around the world in pursuit of everything from chop suey to the real General Tso. Her stories from inside Chinese restaurants in the smallest towns in America are both resonant and heartbreaking. Her conclusions about what makes a person Chinese – or American – as wel
Jul 05, 2009 rated it liked it
"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
Aug 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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Gering Book Junkies: General Tso's Nachos 1 5 Oct 28, 2015 12:21PM  
Gering Book Junkies: Information about the number 8 1 2 Oct 28, 2015 10:53AM  
Gering Book Junkies: Jennifer 8. Lee TED talk 1 5 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

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You know the saying: There's no time like the present...unless you're looking for a distraction from the current moment. In that case, we can't...
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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.” 4 likes
“Chinese have a bigger sense of self-sacrifice. Americans are about self-enjoyment, not self-sacrifice,” he’d” 1 likes
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