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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

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  4,807 ratings  ·  901 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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Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell

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Happy AAPI month! My project for this month is trying to read as many of the Asian-authored books I have on my Kindle that I hadn't been able to get around to for the rest of the year. THE FORTUNE COOKIE CHRONICLES has been on my to-read list for the longest time because it's a collection of linked essays about the history of Chinese food in the United States.

First, a caveat: this was published in 2008 so it comes across as a little date
Mar 10, 2008 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 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
May 31, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2_nonfiction
I originally read this book in... I want to say 2012 or 2013? It was on the reading list for a human geography class I was taking, and I remember that reading it absolutely blew my mind. It's so fascinating to me how "culturally significant" dishes are transformed through patterns of intercultural exchange. As an example: chili peppers, now considered an integral part of many "traditional" Chinese dishes, are not native to China and in fact were only introduced ca. the 18th century when South Am ...more
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  ·  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 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
Apr 12, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Selena S
Oct 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I learned a lot of interesting one-off stories about the origin of fortune cookies, “chop suey”, etc; that General Tso is a real person; how fortune writing is outsourced because it’s so hard to come up with so many; that 1 company produces most of the takeout boxes you see today and that most soy sauce packets in America contain no soy (ok, unsurprising)… probably really a 4.5/5 because the author said stuff like Din Tai Fung is the some of the best Chinese food and described mochi as “rice taf ...more
Mary Tyler March
Apr 19, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’d give it a 4.5 — I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned a LOT from it. I love writers who can take me through the histories and impacts of something in a sweeping and engaging way, and what topic is more accessible than fortune cookies and American Chinese food? I’ll be thinking about this book every time I crack open a fortune cookie or order from a Chinese restaurant.
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Jan 12, 2009 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
Apr 19, 2008 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
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2020
A fascinating ethnogeographic study forged by a curiosity in the connection between Lottery winners and Fortune Cookies.
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 20, 2012 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
Jan 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it this much. Highly recommend!
Nov 12, 2016 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
Turi Becker
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 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
Jan 31, 2009 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
Apr 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Ashley Brown
Jun 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nonfiction books like this are my favorite! I love fact telling mixed in with anecdotal stories. Plus the author approached something simple like "Chinese" food and found countless angles to approach it from: her own family heritage, the origin of the fortune cookie, Chinese immigrants in America (past and present), and just where did the American version of Chinese food come from. It leaves you hungry for some take out and for more stories. ...more
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Gering Book Junkies: General Tso's Nachos 1 5 Oct 28, 2015 12:21PM  
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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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