The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee
My American sheltered mind is blown after reading Lee’s collection of what felt more like a book of essays in, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. Having enjoyed American Chinese food my whole life, I found her journalistic approach to researching the origins of the “Fortune cookie” and the overall impact of Chinese immigration on the World fascinating. There are so many fun foodie facts uncovered by Lee’s deep dive into how Chinese food and culture became what it is known as today. She starts off with a not so long-ago event in the US, when more than a hundred people across the States won the Powerball all by picking the numbers on their fortune cookie message. Lee shares stories of sub-cultures that I never knew existed (don’t judge😊), like that of the Jewish Chinese subset. The effort to keep a kosher duck processing farm/facility running, not only shed light on the role ducks play in Chinese cuisine, but also that of the Jewish culture. There are some tragic and powerful stories of Chinese immigrants and what they endured for the American dream.
Like many immigrants to the US, the heart wrenching stories of just trying to get here have commonality with other immigrants from differing parts of the world, but what is not so common is how influential and extensive the reach of the Chinese has had on the world. Lee shares that the Chinese are the largest group of immigrants to have immigrated. I liked learning about the different countries that have strong connections with Chinese Food, like that of Peru! Being Peruvian American and growing up with arroz chaufa and lomo saltado, two Peruvian Chinese stir-fry dishes found in practically every Peruvian restaurant today, I loved that Peru was one of the 26 countries she visited during her search for the “greatest Chinese restaurants outside of China.
The only part less enjoyable for me in this book, I would say is the ending. I felt like the book could have ended sooner and the end was slightly repetitive. Aside from that, such great information is captured in this book that I would highly recommend it for all of my bookish foodies out there!
On the food exploration side, this book inspired me to cook, bake and steam from Kristina Cho’s cookbook, Mooncakes and Milk bread. I loved working with the different doughs, and cooking techniques. I feel that this cookbook pairs well with this book, because of how Cho’s recipes also reflect and American Chinese feel to her food. I loved her background stories found throughout the book as well. Anytime there is a story about the recipe it allows for better connection with your food. Cho’s instructions and pictures are easy to follow. I would also recommend her book for any novice cook.
Foods I need to try after reading this book, are General Tso Chicken, Chop Suey, Mapo tofu and Egg drop soup.