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  • ISBN-13: 9780446580076
  • ISBN-10: 0446580074

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Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 59.
  • Review Date: 2007-12-03
  • Reviewer: Staff

Readers will take an unexpected and entertaining journey—through culinary, social and cultural history—in this delightful first book on the origins of the customary after-Chinese-dinner treat by New York Times reporter Lee. When a large number of Powerball winners in a 2005 drawing revealed that mass-printed paper fortunes were to blame, the author (whose middle initial is Chinese for “prosperity”) went in search of the backstory. She tracked the winners down to Chinese restaurants all over America, and the paper slips the fortunes are written on back to a Brooklyn company. This travellike narrative serves as the spine of her cultural history—not a book on Chinese cuisine, but the Chinese food of take-out-and-delivery—and permits her to frequently but safely wander off into various tangents related to the cookie. There are satisfying minihistories on the relationship between Jews and Chinese food and a biography of the real General Tso, but Lee also pries open factoids and tidbits of American culture that eventually touch on large social and cultural subjects such as identity, immigration and nutrition. Copious research backs her many lively anecdotes, and being American-born Chinese yet willing to scrutinize herself as much as her objectives, she wins the reader over. Like the numbers on those lottery fortunes, the book's a winner. (Mar.)

BookPage Reviews

Ancient Chinese secrets? Not quite

New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee's (the 8 connotes prosperity in Chinese) new book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, begins with a story about Powerball. In March 2005, the $84 million megalottery jackpot had generated a modest $11 million in ticket sales across 29 states, and officials anticipated three or four second-place winners and maybe one jackpot winner. Instead, there were 104 second-place winners who had selected theidentical six numbers. Where had all these winners gotten their numbers? From a fortune cookie. What started as Lee's initial search for the fortune cookie manufacturer became a search for the fortune cookie's history, which in turn raised questions about the origin and evolution of Chinese food in America.

With more Chinese restaurants in the U.S. than McDonald's, Burger King and KFC restaurants combined, it's obvious that Americans have a consuming passion for Chinese food, or more accurately phrased, Americanized Chinese food. There is no General Tso's chicken in China. Chop suey (as we know it, anyway) was invented here. Even the beloved, fabled and ever-entertaining fortune cookie is not Chinese in origin; it's not American either. How did these and other dishes, "ethnic" yet not too exotic, flavorful yet comforting, come to be? Lee traveled the world and conducted extensive research to find the answers and even goes so far as to identify the world's greatest Chineserestaurant outside of China (sorry, it is not in the U.S.).

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is enjoyable and revealing, and provides insight and an education into the American and Chinese cultures; it's also a tasty blend of thehistory and culture surrounding the rise in popularity of American Chinese food.

Ellen R. Marsden writes from Mason, Ohio.

BAM Customer Reviews