The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

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  • Excerpts

    Among the highlights: chapters on General Tso’s chicken (I meet his family in China), chop suey (with a new theory on who invented it and why), fortune cookies (surprises), how delivery got started in New York City, why Jews love Chinese food (or “Why is chow mein the chosen food of the chosen people?”), and the hunt for the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world.

    The Prologue kicks off the quest with a Powerball mystery that I wrote about in the New York Times.

    Then the chapters are

    1. American-Born Chinese, on how Chinese food is all-American. If our benchmark for Americanness is apple pie, how often do you eat apple pie? Now how often do you eat Chinese food? [USA Today has excerpted it on their site]
    2. The Menu Wars, on how delivery was catalyzed by a now 64-year-old grandmother on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
    3. A Cookie Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma, on my quest to sort out the true origins of fortune cookies, starting in San Francisco. [NPR has excerpted it on their site]
    4. The Biggest Culinary Joke Played by One Culture on Another, on the surprising origins of chop suey and a historical retrospective on how it saved the Chinese.
    5. The Long March of General Tso, where I visit General Tso’s family in China in an attempt to understand how this became the ultimate Chinese-American dish. It also explains the differences between Chinese food in China vs. Chinese food in America. [Part of this is in Maxim’s March issue, but not online?]
    6. The Bean Sprout People are in the Same Boat We Are, on how fortune cookies became industrialized. (cute chapter!)
    7. Why Chow Mein is the Chosen Food of the Chosen People: The Kosher Duck Scandal of 1989, where I argue that Chinese food is the ethnic cuisine of the American Jew since they identify with it much more than the Eastern European food of their immigrant ancestors.
    8. The Golden Venture: Restaurant Workers to Go, on the harrowing journeys of the Fujianese who are coming to America to work in the restaurants.
    9. Take-out Takeaways, on those white takeout cartons.
    10. The Oldest Surviving Fortune Cookies in the World, where I go to Los Angeles (still on the trail of fortune cookies)
    11. The Mystery of the Missing Chinese Deliveryman, on the lives (and deaths) of those behind the General Tso chicken which is brought to your door. (Original New York Times article on the missing man) It also looks at the Chinatown buses system that brings them around the country. (Related New York Times article)
    12. The Soy Sauce Trade Dispute, how the American soy sauce lobbybeat back an attempt at international standards defining real soy sauce as being made from soy beans.
    13. Waizhou, U.S.A., on the human costs of running a Chinese restaurant on a family I followed for three years. (This is the original New York Times article on the family that made me think of writing the book)
    14. The Greatest Chinese Restaurant in The World, where yes I do actually journey around the world (Dubai, Mauritius, Australia, Singapore etc.) trying to figure out where the world’s greatest Chinese restaurant is. Obsessive.
    15. American Stir-fry, my self-epiphany chapter where ask what is assimilation and propose an alternative to the melting pot/tossed salad analogies of American society.
    16. Tsujiura Senbei, where I solve the mystery of the origins of the fortune cookie! Thanks to my friend Tomoko Hosaka! (See related New York Times article.)
    17. Open-Source Chinese Restaurant, the Big Thought chapter where everything that seemed so random in the proceeding chapters actually gets tied together and where I establish a business angle to the book (special thanks to Tim Wu and Jimmy Quach for making the observations that put this together)
    18. So What did Confucius Really Say? Where I track down the inspiration for those fortunes in your cookie, and discover how little green creatures may be our modern day Confucius

    Note how there are 18 chapters. That’s for the Jews (who I hope will buy this book in vast numbers).

    I might put up excerpts which didn’t make it into the final book — sort of the director’s cut version of my book — later.