The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

  • #26 on the New York Times Best Seller List
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    Philadelphia City Paper: “after you’ve digested all of that cultural insight and fascinating trivia, you’ll still want more.”

    By Jennifer 8. Lee | May 1, 2008

    I’m just trolling and catching up with random reviews that I never got around to adding. Here is one from the Philadelphia City Paper.

    The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food

    By Jennifer 8. Lee

    Twelve, 320 pp., $24.99

    “This book began as a quest to understand Chinese food,” New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee writes in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. “But three years, six continents, 23 countries, and 42 states later, I realize it was actually a personal journey to understand myself.” Born and raised in New York, Lee tells a story of immigrants through the cuisine they spread throughout their adopted countries.

    The chapters read like a loosely connected series of magazine articles, with fortune cookies providing the framework. Lee begins her book by trying to track down 110 Powerball winners who’d found their fortunes through one set of lucky numbers. From there, she hunts for the origins of the Pacman-shaped cookie itself. (Japan, as it turns out.)

    But she cracks other mysteries, too, like where those takeout containers come from, why American-made soy sauce doesn’t contain soy and “Why Chow Mein Is the Chosen Food of the Chosen People.” In her quest to discover the world’s greatest Chinese restaurant, Lee makes cases for — among others — a celeb-studded Parisian joint, a Chinese-American chain in Seoul and a pricey dive in San Francisco before settling on a discount fusion foodery hidden in a Vancouver strip mall.

    The book’s not perfect. Lee has a habit of repeating herself, and a chapter on one troubled restaurant family drags on without resolution. There’s fat to be trimmed, for sure. But after you’ve digested all of that cultural insight and fascinating trivia, you’ll still want more.

    — M.J. Fine

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