Many cities with large Chinese and Chinese-American communities have fortune cookie factories, and many provide tours. If you are in San Francisco’s Chinatown, you can find a fortune cookie factory tour at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, in an alley historically known for its brothels and gambling. You can smell the fortune cookies being made, so just follow the wafting smell of sugar wafer, and you won’t be able to miss the fortune cookie factory.
At the factory, the cookies are still made the old fashioned way — by hand. The cookies themselves are formed by batter poured into a mold, making a flat, 3-inch wafer. After they cook on a griddle-like, rotating machine, they are picked up either by hand, or with chop sticks, and a fortune is inserted into the center of the wafer. They are then folded, and placed in cup-like holders to cool. The work room is loud, filled with general noise and the back and forth chatter of the workers.
Although it is a simple process, it is rather hard to explain, so take a look and see how it works:
While one of the rituals of ordering Chinese food is the opening of the fortune cookie following the meal, the tradition is an American invention dating back to the early 1900’s. Although fortune cookies are now also made in China (since 1993), they are advertised and sold as “Genuine American Fortune Cookies.”
Here are a few bits of trivia about the fortune cookie:
- The Joy Luck Club (a novel by Amy Tan and later a movie) poked fun at the non-Chinese aspect of the fortune cookie by depicting Chinese immigrant women working in a fortune cookie factory in America.
- A large Powerball jackpot payout in New York City was thought to be fraud, but it was later discovered that the numbers picked were found in a fortune cookie.
- It is believed that you must eat the entire fortune cookie in order for the fortune to come true. Conversely, if it’s a negative fortune, you should not eat the cookie at all.
- A common way to “spice” up the fortune with an adult connotation is to add the phrase “in bed” or “between the sheets” at the end of fortune.
Location: 56 Ross Alley (Ross at Jackson), San Francisco
Tours: FREE, and you get to taste the cookies, too. The tour lasts about 15-30 minutes, depending on the crowd, and is suitable for both kids and adults.