Friday, August 8, 2008
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food
by Jennifer 8 Lee
(the 8 stands for prosperity in Chinese)
In 2005, an unusually large of people got 5 out of 6 numbers from the Powerball drawing correct. The one thing tying many of these people together is the fact that they had chosen their numbers based off a numbers found in a fortune cookie. Lee, a reporter, decided to follow the trail of the fortune cookies by visiting the winners, the restaurants they ate at, and eventually where the fortune cookies were made. Along the way she tells the story of chop suey (100% American), General Tso's Chicken (mostly American), the history of fortune cookies, and various other random facts about American-Chinese food. Lee also spends several years visiting many states and something like 23 countries trying to find the best Chinese restaurant in the world (outside of China).
Overall, this book had a lot of interesting useless information. Not useless in a bad way, but in a "I don't know that I will ever need to know this" kind of way. The P.F. in P.F. Chang's stands for Paul Fleming while the Chang is a variant of Chiang the names of the co-founders of the restaurant. The Kosher Duck Scandal of 1989 was interesting, though I am not sure I would have called it a scandal - more like a problem that might have been covered up - or something. Basically in Orthodox Jewish communities there are people that actually monitor what is served in kosher restaurants to make sure they remain kosher. When, during a shortage of kosher ducks, a Chinese restaurant continues selling duck based meals, an alarm is sounded. Nothing really gets anywhere though - the restaurant is cleared and the "whistle blower" is sent packing.
I thought the information about fortune cookies was the most interesting. If the book had been an essay just with her information about the history of the fortune cookie, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more. I did figure out the connection between the Chinese and the Japanese Interment camps (as relating to the fortune cookie, not to the interment) way before her big "ah ha!" moment near the end. I've also been craving a fortune cookie since reading the book...
My biggest complaint about this book was its length. There was way more information than was ever needed. Several stories I read and wondered why they were included - like the family that moved from NY to Georgia and opened a Chinese restaurant and the hardships they faced. Other than showing how difficult it is to own/run a family restaurant, I don't know what I was supposed to gain from the story, and it certainly didn't add to the book as a whole. At nearly 300 hundred pages, I suspect the book would have been better overall if maybe a third or so had been cut out in the editorial process. It just kind of dragged.
The interesting facts were interesting, but getting there took a lot of work sometimes. If you are really into Chinese food/general immigration trends for people from China, give it a shot. Otherwise, I am not sure it's completely worth the effort.
2.5 out of 5 stars
Posted by KT at 11:08 AM