The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

  • #26 on the New York Times Best Seller List
    and featured on The Colbert Report, Martha Stewart,, CNN, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Charlie Rose Tomorrow, Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, and NPR stations coast to coast. Also selected for Borders Original Voices and Book Sense. Follow me on Twitter! Fan me on Facebook.

  • Chef Peng, creator of General Tso’s chicken, passes away

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | December 2, 2016

    I knew this day was going to come. And in fact as surprised how long he lasted, since we rushed to film him for our documentary when he was 91.

    But Chef Peng, our famed creator of General Tso’s chicken passed away at age 97. I was in the middle of the Nieman Foundation board meeting when I started getting bombarded by emails and phone calls for interviews.

    The best obit was by Washington Post’s Emily Langer. I was a bit disappointed that The New York Times had to cite the Associated Press for his death



    Topics: Chinese, Chinese Food, General Tso, The Search for General Tso | No Comments »

    Harley Spiller’s Giant Chinese Menu Collection Going to University of Toronto

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | February 3, 2016

    Big news in menu world. Harley Spiller’s immense Chinese menu collection (and an indirect inspiration for my book) is going to the University of Toronto. He sold it for $40,000, which may sound like a lot. But actually isn’t if you consider there are 10,000 items in it.

    I thought it might go to the NYPL. But alas.

    Topics: Chinese Food | No Comments »

    The Search for General Tso. In Theaters January 2, 2015!

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | December 4, 2014

    Happy to say that The Search for General Tso has been acquired by IFC/Sundance for distribution and will be in theaters (and VOD) on January 2, 2015.

    Director Ian Cheney did a great job of shepherding through the film, which was repped by Cinetic Media, of indie film fame.

    Here is the trailer below.

    Plus the official movie poster!

    GeneralTsoPoster_eg_09.9_lo_rez_rgb (1)

    Topics: Chinese Food, General Tso, Multimedia, The Search for General Tso | No Comments »

    “The Search for General Tso” Will Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | March 24, 2014


    I’m excited to announce that “The Search for General Tso”, a documentary that I have been working on with director Ian Cheney, is going to be premiering at The Tribeca Film Festival.  This is a long project in the making. It’s been four years since I first met Ian Cheney and Cur

    “Search” has three showings: April 19 at 3:30 p.m., April 20 at 3 p.m. and April 24 at 9 p.m.

    As Ian Hollander writes in the official film guide:

    From New York City to the farmlands of the Midwest, there are around 50,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S. While there can be quite a range of Chinese-American dishes, one in particular seems to have conquered the American culinary landscape with a force befitting its military moniker—“General Tso’s Chicken.” Walk into any Chinese restaurant in the country and you can be fairly certain you’ll be rewarded with a plate of this sweet and sticky fried chicken—seemingly just spicy enough for the American palate. But how did this dish reach such levels of ubiquity and who was General Tso in the first place? This delightfully insightful documentary seeks to uncover the origins of a dish that Americans have warmly adopted as their own. As director Ian Cheney journeys to Shanghai and Hunan, it becomes increasingly clear that the answers lie much closer to home, as the story of General Tso’s Chicken becomes inextricably linked to the story of Chinese Americans’ own search to define their identity. 

    Topics: Chinese Food | No Comments »

    Authentic Indian “Schezwan” Dishes

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | April 30, 2013



    Narayan Venkatasubramanyan (that’s an awesome last name) sent me a link to a popular Indian company called Ching’s Secret, which sells Chinese dishes to prepare at home, including Schezwan dishes.

    In English we spelled ?? as Szechwan or Szechuan, now Sichuan in pingyin. But in Indian the spelling went a bit awry. As he explains it,

    When the taste of that province was introduced in India, some Indian decided that it was silly to add a “z” after an “s”, decided it was some horrible misspelling, and “corrected” the spelling to the more logical-looking “Schezwan.” and then proceeded to pronounce it as it was written. these days, India is full of restaurants with menus with “Schezwan sauce” and diners who loudly demand the “authentic” shay-zwan flavour.

    Topics: Global Chinese Food | No Comments »

    This Guy Has Eaten in More Chinese Restaurants Than I Have!

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | April 23, 2013


    The Los Angeles Times has a feature on David Chan  (@chandavkl)who has eaten in over 6,000 Chinese restaurants, and has a ginormous Excel spreadsheet to prove it. Though his list starts in 1955, which is decades before spreadsheets were even invented.

    The coolest part is the time-step map over the years, which plots all the restaurants in the Los Angeles area he has eaten at. It which is made possible because he has kept such meticulous records (including the addresses). Data visualization + Chinese restaurants. One of my favorites.

    I’m going to guess I might have eaten in Chinese restaurants in more countries than he has, but he certainly wins on the sheer numbers.


    Topics: Chinese Restaurants | No Comments »

    An $888 dish at Hakkasan, New York

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | April 4, 2012

    Hakkasan, the London-based luxury Chinese chain I went to for my book, opened up a New York City location.

    It’s high end. The New York space is 11,000 square feet and seats 200.

    Most entrees are $22 to $88. But one dish is $888  for Japanese abalone with black truffle.

    It’s located in Times Square, 311 West 43rd Street, (212) 776-1818.


    Topics: Chinese Food | No Comments »

    Jeremy Lin’s head over a Chinese fortune cookie. On MSG’s TV.

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | February 16, 2012

    jeremy lin fortune cookie

    MSG now regrets putting up a graphic of Jeremy Lin’s head over the broken fortune cookie. Almost inevitable. But still, I think someone must have thought this was a good idea. And no one thought maybe it wasn’t. On television is the strangest part.Â

    Topics: Chinese Food | No Comments »

    Chinese Takeout Boxes are All-American

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | January 18, 2012

    The New York Times Magazine has a piece by Hilary Greenbaum and Dana Rubenstein on how Chinese takeout boxes are uniquely American (Chinese takeout boxes are all but unknown in China) My favorite fact that they dug up:

    On Nov. 13, 1894, in Chicago, the inventor Frederick Weeks Wilcox patented a version of what he called a “paper pail,” which was a single piece of paper, creased into segments and folded into a (more or less) leakproof container secured with a dainty wire handle on top.

    Impressed that they dug that up. In my research, I did not stumble across that fun, fun fact.

    Topics: Chinese Food | No Comments »

    My research is now part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection.

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | October 26, 2011

    I stopped by the American history museum of the Smithsonian and was superexcited to see three objects that I have encountered in my research were now on exhibit and part of the museum’s permanent collection

    The kata grills from Gary Ono, which were used to make superearly fortune cookies in the Japanese Tea Garden in the San Francisco Golden Gate Park.

    What could be the oldest American fortune cookies still in existence (50 years old!), an unopened can of “fortune tea cakes” from Hong Kong Noodle in Los Angeles, donated by Merlin Lowe, and a hat to go with it.

    smithsonian 1

    Here is the little museumy write up that went below it, that makes it superreal.


    smithsonian 2

    Topics: Chinese Food, Fortune Cookies | No Comments »

    Spoke at the National Archives on Oct. 26

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | October 26, 2011

    I spoke at the National Archives today. That’s right, the same building as Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence! It was part of the “What’s Cooking? Uncle Sam” exhibit, which examines the federal government’s impact on the American diet.

    The building:

    national archives

    And the little sign for the talk.

    national archives 2

    Update: The chief of research offered to pull up the Chinese Exclusion Act next time I’m in town. How cool is that?

    Topics: Appearances, Chinese Food | No Comments »

    Speaking at the National Archives on October 26

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | October 1, 2011

    I’m speaking at the National Archives on October 26 in the William G. McGowan Theater as part of their ongoing series looking at food.

    Topics: Appearances | No Comments »

    General Tso’s Nachos

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | August 2, 2011

    This is amazing. General Tso’s nachos. He’s gone south of the border.

    Topics: Chinese Food | No Comments »

    Certificates from California Senate, Assembly + San Francisco Board of Supervisors

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | April 13, 2011


    I got these certificates in the mail yesterday. Superfun.

    Topics: Chinese Food | No Comments »

    Star Trek Meets Chinese Food: Make it Tso

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | April 7, 2011

    Sent to me by David Lefer.

    Topics: General Tso | No Comments »

    From a UCLA Asian American studies professor

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | April 1, 2011

    I got a lovely note from an Asian American studies professor at UCLA. It’s exciting to think of the book as a “staple.”

    I am writing to say how much my students and I enjoy your wonderful book.  It has become a staple reading in a seminar I teach on Asian American history through foodways.  From your fortune-cookie detective work to the mysteries of General Tso’s chicken, to the plight of Chinese restaurant families and deliverymen, your book helps readers to think more deeply about things we take for granted. Your interwoven exploration of second-generation issues particularly resonates for many students who are the children of immigrants and refugees.

    Hope your writing and food adventures are going well!  Looking forward to your next project.

    Topics: Reader Feedback | No Comments »

    Chinatown Street Food Tour on Saturday, April 2 and 3 for $88

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | March 20, 2011

    More update. To sign up for announcements of future food tours, sign up below

    Enter your email address:

    A TinyLetter Email Newsletter

    Update! I’m adding an additional tour on April 3, at 2 p.m. Meet at 215 Centre Street inside the lobby of the Museum of Chinese in America. Donate $88 to the workshop at and forward the receipt to jenny[at]jennifer8lee[dot]com with a note if you are vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions.


    I’m doing a walking tour of New York City Chinatown street food as part of the Kickstarter fundraiser for the Asian American Writers Workshop last fall. It’s a ~2.5 hour tour that includes (depending on availability) Xi’an Famous Foods, Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, Xinjiang skewers, banh mi, pulled noodles and more. It’s an $88 donation to the workshop.

    Must be willing to share portions. Please wear comfortable shoes. Meet Saturday, April 2 at 2 p.m. in front of the Chinatown’s Museum of Chinese in America at 215 Centre Street. There is also possibility of adding April 3 if there is enough demand. Food costs included in the tour.

    Donate $88 to the workshop at and forward the receipt to jenny[at]jennifer8lee[dot]com witha note if you are vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions. Also say if you prefer April 2 or 3 (We’re not sure about April 3 yet)

    Topics: Chinese Food | No Comments »

    Fortune Cookie Baby Booties Inspired by Book

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | March 16, 2011

    My friend, Barbara Martinez, alerted me to the fact that my appearance on Martha Stewart inspired her to create the baby booties. (click on the booties, annoying that they don’t have an individual link to each finalist.)

    Here is what she writes (she got the middle initial wrong, but whatevs).

    Della S.
    Oregon City, OR

    I came up with my ReMarthable idea when I was watching the Martha Stewart Show a couple years ago when Jennifer B.Lee was on explaining the origins of fortune cookies. I make Japanese inspired crafts, sushi baby booties, and sushi ornaments. I wanted to keep with the Japanese theme, so when I heard on the show that fortune cookies originated in Japan, a light clicked on and Fortune cookie booties were born! They are made from a simple kimono style pattern, very easy to demonstrate. The fortunes are made from printable canvas, I have made these from brown re-purposed sweaters or fleece. I also make adult sizes.

    Topics: Chinese Food | No Comments »

    Smithsonian’s Sweet and Sour Chinese Exhibition

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | March 10, 2011


    The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is presenting a Chinese American display, Sweet & Sour, opening March 17, 2011 (two days after my birthday!) in the lobby. I helped a bit with linking them together with the items, including the original Japanese kata that were used to grill some of the first fortune cookies in America.

    The project brings together many Chinese restaurant-related objects ranging from menus, restaurant signs, and cooking tools. Well worth a stop! The museum is located at 4th Street and Constitution Ave, NW
    Washington, DC 20004.

    More from the Voice of America.

    Topics: Chinese Food | No Comments »

    My award from Chinese Restaurant News

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | February 22, 2011

    Influential personalities in restaurant industry.

    Topics: Chinese Food | No Comments »

    My book in Berkeley Ethnic Studies library.

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | February 19, 2011


    Topics: Chinese Food, History | No Comments »

    Fortune Cookie Seating

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | February 17, 2011

    Shin Azumi for Lapalma has designed a fortune cookie-shaped chair which was presented at Imm Cologne 2011, though there has been some controversy about it since then.

    According to Swiss Miss, it is built from a single sheet of plywood. While it looks fragile, it’s actually incredibly stable, thanks to the clever weight distribution achieved via a specifically shaped contact area with the floor.

    It probably wasn’t purposely fortune cookie shaped, but the resemblance reminds us just how elegant the fortune cookie shape is.

    Topics: Fortune Cookies | No Comments »

    Popular Irish Chinese dish: 3-in-1 = fried rice, curry sauce and French fries all in one.

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | January 18, 2011

    It’s actually not bad, carby overload, with cool crispy and grainy and
    sauce texture. It’s arguably the most popular Irish-Chinese dish. Best
    when you are drunk from beer, I’ve been told.

    Best description when they called it “Chinese poutine.”

    Topics: Best Chinese Restaurants Around the World, Chinese Food, Chinese Restaurants | No Comments »

    Cary Goldstein, New Publisher of Twelve

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | January 11, 2011

    Grand Central Publishing today abruptly announced that Cary Goldstein, publicist extraordinaire and deputy publisher, is going to take over as publisher of Twelve, effective immediately (their website changed quickly enough).
    This is covered by The New York Times, the Associated Press, Publishers Weekly. Cary recently signed a two-book deal with Christopher Hitchens, who was diagnosed with esophagus cancer — which is a real coup as Hitchens did not move over to Simon & Schuster with Jon Karp (awesome editor). Hitchens, of course, gave Twelve its first long-running number one New York Times best seller, God is not Great.

    Here is the email we got

    Dear Friends:

    I am writing to let you know about changes being made in the management of Twelve. Susan Lehman will be leaving the imprint and Cary Goldstein will be taking over the role of Publisher. While I realize that change is hard, and that there have certainly been significant changes at Twelve over the past months, the elevation of Cary to Publisher speaks to the continuity of the imprint, as Cary has been a pillar from the start. More than that, Cary has been the mastermind behind many of Twelve’s most notable successes, and is fully committed (passionate would be an even more apt word) to the imprint’s unique publishing philosophy, and its success.

    Details are included in the attached press release.

    All best,

    Jamie Raab

    And the attached press release:

    Contact: Sophie Cottrell
    212-364-1281 /


    (January 11, 2011 / New York) – Jamie Raab, EVP and Publisher of Grand Central Publishing, announced today that Cary Goldstein will be assuming the position of Publisher of Twelve, replacing Susan Lehman.

    As Associate Publisher of Twelve, Goldstein has been responsible for orchestrating the imprint’s publicity strategies, and acquiring and editing works of fiction and nonfiction. “Cary has been part of Twelve since its inception, and has truly been one of the pillars of the imprint,” said Raab. “He’s a brilliant marketing strategist, a very fine editor with a keen eye for acquisitions, and, most importantly, has a real vision for the future of Twelve. He created enormously successful campaigns for Ted Kennedy’s TRUE COMPASS and Sebastian Junger’s WAR – and these are just two of many. Cary’s commitment to Twelve’s books and authors is extraordinary, and I look forward to seeing him thrive in his new role as he shapes Twelve’s publishing program and guides the imprint to continued success and acclaim.”

    “Susan Lehman is an extremely insightful, creative and talented editor,” Raab said. “Unfortunately, the role of Publisher just wasn’t the perfect fit.”

    Twelve was launched in 2007 with a unique approach – to publish no more than one book per month – and the results of this intense focus have been remarkable: Twelve has published 43 titles, 20 of which have been New York Times bestsellers, including god is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and True Compass by the late Senator Ted Kennedy (both of which reached the #1 slot), and Christopher Buckley’s novel Boomsday. Other recent bestsellers include the aforementioned War by Sebastian Junger, as well as Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, and The Sherlockian by Graham Moore.

    At Twelve Goldstein has edited Jess Winfield’s My Name is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs and Shakespeare, a New York Times Book Review “Editor’s Choice”; Jerry Weintraub’s memoir When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead, which was a New York Times bestseller; and Benjamin Hale’s forthcoming debut novel The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and IndieNext pick for February 2011. Most recently, Goldstein negotiated a two-book deal with Christopher Hitchens for a collection of essays entitled Arguably, scheduled for publication in September 2011, and a book-length meditation on “malady and mortality,” chronicling Hitchens’ ongoing ordeal with esophageal cancer.

    Prior to joining Twelve in July 2006, Goldstein was the Associate Director of Publicity and Director of Web Publicity at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, where he began his career as an intern in 1996. He has also been senior publicist at Basic Books, Director of National Poetry Month for The Academy of American Poets, and buyer and features editor responsible for Fiction, Literature, and Poetry at

    Goldstein’s role is effective immediately. New additions to Twelve’s staff will be announced shortly.

    Topics: Chinese Food, Twelve | No Comments »

    Tracking Chinese restaurants, chop suey and fortune cookies over the last two centuries via Google books

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | January 9, 2011

    This ngram is a broad metric of the concepts in Google books, and the dates generally track with my research: "chop suey" jumping around 1896, "fortune cookies" surging after World War II, and "Chinese restaurants" making an appearance in 1860, around the beginnings of the first waves of Chinese immigration.  " Notice how "Chinese restaurants" continue to  go up even as "chop suey" falls.

    Topics: Chinese Food | No Comments »

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