Are fortune cookies Chinese?
Clearly not. They are arguably more American (by way of Japan), judging by the way that people in China react to fortune cookies — with a mixture of confusion and amusement. As part of research for my book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, I went around China handing out fortune cookies to random people (my bellhop, people on the street, vendors) and recorded their reactions.
Often times, they would put the cookies in their mouth, and then be surprised when they found a piece of paper either in their mouth or in a cookie.
Fortune cookies are not intuitive. This was confirmed when I discovered a woman named Nana Shi who was making fortune cookies in China. But she too put instructions on the red wrapper telling people to break the cookie before eating them because they were necessary.
Americans find high emotional attachment to the slips inside their cookies, looking to them for winning lottery numbers and becoming upset when the fortunes inside are unfortunate. The Chinese, on the other hand, would often tell me after trying the curved vanilla-flavored wafers, “Americans are so strange, why are they putting pieces of paper in their cookies?”