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Was the Fortune Cookie Born in Los Angeles?

Fortune Cookie and Fortune

Photo courtesy of hannahlouise & Pixabay.com.

Although the origin of the fortune cookie is unclear and there is some evidence that at least some of its origin can be traced to 19th century Japan, there are actually three Americans who claimed to invent the fortune cookie as we know it today, two being from Los Angeles.

David Jung, a Chinese immigrant noodle manufacturer who founded the Hong Kong Noodle Company in 1913 in Los Angeles, claimed credit for originating the fortune cookie in 1918. He maintained that he invented the treat with its encouraging messages for unemployed men who gathered on the streets. There remains, however, no documentation as to how he actually came up with the idea.

The other Angeleno to lay claim to the fortune cookie was Japanese immigrant Seiichi Kito, who in 1903 founded the now historic confectionary shop Fugetsu-Do in Little Tokyo. He credited his idea to the slips of paper with written fortunes sold in temples and shrines in Japan and alleged that David Jung simply copied his idea and popularized it. He further recounted that Chinese restaurants were the ones to show the most interest in his cookies, explaining why it became seen as a Chinese treat.

The third person to take credit for the fortune cookie was Makoto Hagiwara of the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. He, like Kito, was a Japanese immigrant and claimed to have served the treat, based on Japanese grilled rice wafers, as early as 1907.

In an attempt to settle the disputed claims in 1983, the Court of Historical Review, a colorful mock court (it proclaimed no legal or academic authority) held in San Francisco, heard testimony and reviewed evidence in a courtroom-style proceeding and ruled in favor of Makoto Hagiwara as the fortune cookie’s inventor. Although the court was presided over by a real Federal judge and used accepted rules of evidence, its ruling was rejected by proponents of Los Angeles being the real origin of the fortune cookie. They suggested (however unfairly) that the San Francisco-based judge may have been biased.

So, the debate rages on.