Even though most of us are aware that fortune cookies are a faux Chinese custom invented in the U.S., we wait in suspense to open these rice cake treats when dining in Chinese restaurants.
Especially for children. For a while, my husband and I fooled our offspring until they learned to read. The toddlers would excitedly hand Harold their cookie fortunes and invariably he would pretend to slowly decode them and then intone, “Honor your father and your mother, and you will have good luck.” We couldn’t get away with that for long.
In Los Angeles, I frequently visited Chinatown and once stopped in at a Chinese Fortune Cookie factory. The process intrigued me — batter automatically poured onto small circle griddles and when the fragrant aroma indicated that they were cooked, they were mechanically folded into fortune cookie shapes. The process mesmerized me, yet I can’t remember at what stage they inserted the fortunes.
Most of us are familiar with the old fashioned predictions, “You will soon take a long journey,” but fortunes like the irreverent one in my title, “Next time, order the shrimp,” cause a vision of Chinese fortune cookie writers going off the deep end. Or perhaps, the new kinds of fortune cookie writers are simply more daring and realistic.
“There is no problem. It’s only your stupidity.”
“Keep it simple. The more you say, the more people won’t remember.”
Even though wer realize that the fortunes are just hokum created by some anonymous writers, more likely based in Brooklyn than Beijing, we have hopes that a startling pronouncement will elate us and renew our optimism about the future.
There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s why we scan our horoscopes, have our palms read or tarot cards interpreted.
Even on the brink of 83 years, I confess that I still look forward to reading my fortune and grab the cookie that conveys that it is destined only for me. So far, I have avoided selecting this one of the contemporary variety.
“I cannot help you, for I am just a cookie.”
Norine Dresser is a folklorist who believes that at almost 83, tomorrow still holds promise.