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Boldtype: “The book balances history and cooking lessons with Lee’s humorous mythbusting expeditions”
By Jennifer 8. Lee | May 1, 2008
I’m recommended on Boldtype’s list this month (first book!). As their site explains, “Boldtype is a monthly book review focusing on smart, readable works of fiction and nonfiction, from current titles to past gems.”
Available everywhere from shacks that sell it alongside hamburgers to highly rated Zagat favorites, Chinese food is one of the most iconic comfort foods in American culture.â€Review
For over a hundred years, Chinese food has transcended religion, race, and picky eaters in American culture. More than a mere cuisine, it has become a cultural phenomenon â€” it’s a Christmas Eve tradition, a midnight indulgence, and a source of fortunes and good advice. Available everywhere from shacks that sell it alongside hamburgers to the highly rated Zagat favorites, Chinese food is one of our most iconic comfort foods.
In The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, Jennifer 8. Lee re-examines this beloved food with a series of questions. How true is American Chinese food to its forebears? Who is General Tso, anyway? How in the world do those fortunes get inside the cookie?
Lee’s cross-cultural culinary journey began in 2005, when she learned that 110 second-place Powerball winners â€” a lottery record â€” had used the same set of “lucky numbers” from Chinese fortune cookies served in restaurants all over the US, from Montana to Virginia. So many winners bonded by the same picks was a first in Powerball history. After discovering this unlikely statistical coincidence, Lee travels the country to interview the different people who won big off of identical fortunes. Lee then takes her fascination over to China, to see if beloved American Chinese dishes match up to the originals, and, in turn, develops a sort of origin story.
Over the course of this investigation, Lee tells human-interest tales of cookie and chop-suey copyrights, describing the fights that have continued for generations (in and out of court) over the origin and ownership of these edible classics. The book balances history and cooking lessons with Lee’s humorous mythbusting expeditions; she delves deep into the transnational world of Chinese food while also chronicling the development of food-delivery services and the rise of popular chains like Panda Express and P.F. Chang’s. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is at once a historical, personal, and culinary tale that ultimately manages to be as savory as its subject.
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