The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

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    Associated Press: “Go buy this wonderful book”

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | March 2, 2008

    The Associated Press has moved a review that ends by telling readers “Go buy this wonderful book” (okay, but only if they want to find the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world). It is a really flattering review and it will be picked up by papers across the country slowly over the next few weeks.

    Adventures in the world of Chinese food
    By JESSICA BERNSTEIN-WAX, Associated Press Writer
    “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food” (Twelve. 308 pages. $24.99), by Jennifer 8. Lee: If you’ve ever pondered the origins of chop suey, wondered who the heck General Tso is or spent hours analyzing a fortune cookie message, this is the book for you.

    Scratch that. Lee’s inquiries into the cultural and historical phenomena behind Chinese food and its amazing spread around the world are so fascinating that anyone who has ever eaten a single egg roll should read her book.

    That would be just about everyone, according to Lee, a New York Times metro reporter.

    In the United States alone, she writes, some 40,000 Chinese restaurants outnumber all the country’s McDonald’s, Burger Kings and KFCs combined.

    “Chinese food has become an American comfort food in part because it is predictable,” Lee writes. “At times it seems that America’s Chinese restaurants operate as a single giant, pulsing entity, a lively example of one of the most fertile research areas for biologists, sociologists, and economists: spontaneously self-organizing networks.”

    Chinese food has also made its way to the world’s seven continents and is even available to astronauts as part of NASA’s thermostabilized menu, she writes.

    Lee takes readers around the United States and the world as she probes anything and everything related to General Tso’s chicken, the fortune cookie and chop suey.

    The book features captivating sections on human smuggling of Chinese restaurant workers, Chinese take-out menu wars on New York’s Upper West Side and virulent disputes in the international soy sauce trade — turns out most of the soy sauce packets Americans get with their take out actually contain no soy.

    In the chapter “Why chow mein is the chosen food of the chosen people; or, The Kosher Duck Scandal of 1989,” Lee hightails it to the Chinese city of Kaifeng, home to a dwindling community of Chinese Jews, as part of her quest to figure out why American Jews like Chinese food so much. She also provides a hilarious account of a Maryland kosher restaurant that created an uproar in the surrounding Orthodox Jewish community by allegedly served non-kosher duck to its customers during a shortage in the late 1980s.

    Another chapter pulls the curtain back on the secret travails of fortune cookie message writers, detailing their struggles with writer’s block, plagiarism and cutthroat competition.

    And then there are the restaurant reviews. Lee traveled from San Francisco to Lima, Peru, to the African island of Mauritius in search of the best Chinese restaurant outside China.

    Want to know what it is? Go buy this wonderful book.

    Topics: Chinese Food, Reviews | No Comments »

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