Most people who order Chinese takeaway are familiar with fortune cookies. They’re actually something of a staple of the cuisine. They’re usually made from vanilla, sugar, flour, and sesame seed oil. The sesame seed oil is what makes them distinctly Asian. They’re typically served at the end of your meal or sent along for the end of your meal; however, they’re conspicuously absent from Chinese food in China. Why is that?
There is a Japanese cookie created in the 1800s that is very similar to the fortune cookie you are familiar with. They’re slightly larger than the ones that we usually eat; they’re also made with miso instead of vanilla or butter. These cookies typically feature a fortune inside. These cookies were first created in Kyoto, so one could say they are Japanese in origin; however, fortune cookies are distinctly American.
The modern version of the fortune cookie, while an adaptation of the Kyoto cookies, was created in California in the late 19th century or early 20th century. The owner of a Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco claimed to be the originator of the cookie. He claimed to have done this in the 1890s or soon after. However, another person claimed to have first made the cookies in Los Angeles in 1918.
The competing claims actually lead to a court case in 1983; the court ultimately ruled in favour of the San Francisco claim. The truth is that they most likely developed independent of each other. The number of ingredients available to Japanese immigrants in 1918 were probably pretty similar throughout California, so the substitutions for traditional Japanese ingredients were probably pretty similar as well.
21st Century Iterations
Regardless of the origins, when you order the best Chinese takeaway in Bristol, you expect fortune cookies. They might be inauthentic or distinctly American, but they’re become a crucial part of UK Chinese takeaway as well. An entire set of myths has grown up around the cookies.
Some say that you will have added good fortune if you can remove the fortune slip and then replace it without breaking the cookie. Some say that you have to eat the cookie or the fortune won’t come true.
What Else Isn’t Chinese?
Interestingly, large amounts of UK Chinese takeaway are actually Western inventions or adaptations. Most of them were created by Chinese or Japanese immigrants who were adapting their traditional cuisine to fit with local palates and available ingredients. For example, Szechuan chicken available in the actual Szechuan region features very bold spices. Chief among these flavours is the Szechuan pepper, which is very hot and very bold. Szechuan cuisine in the UK typically does not feature Szechuan peppers for a couple of reasons. Chiefly, Szechuan peppers were not available in the 1960s, when Chinese takeaway boomed in the UK. Also, UK palates are not as fond of the intense flavour.
A lot of UK Chinese food isn’t very authentic to its original recipe. It kind of makes you wonder what UK food is like in China.