Elevate Difference

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

It's rare that I find myself so drawn in by a book that it puts a smile on my face. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles did that and more.

At its most basic, this book is about Chinese food in the United States - where it came from, its evolution, and the influence it has had on American dining. It, ultimately, becomes an exploration not only of the Chinese presence in the United States, but of Chinese culture.

The story begins with an exciting and mysterious prologue set in the Midwest. Sue Dooley oversees a Powerball drawing with results she has never encountered before, an unprecedented 110 winners nationwide. It continues on a subway, where author Jennifer Lee spots an article about the lottery results in AM New York. She discovers that many of the Powerball winners got their lucky numbers "from a fortune cookie," and her investigation begins.

As a travel enthusiast and lover of Chinese food, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles sucked me in almost immediately. Lee's depictions of restaurants and Chinese provinces brought out my wanderlust while her descriptions of traditional Chinese recipes and the food she encountered on her journey roused cravings in my belly I hadn't experienced.

The book evolves into something more than a tome about food, however, as Lee is introduced to the movers and shakers of the Chinese food industry in America. Poverty, illegal immigration, religion, prejudice, and politics are all explored. It sheds illumination on the struggles of the Chinese in the United States to an audience I believe may not have received such information otherwise.

While The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is not overtly feminist (it doesn't explore gender roles and is not specific to the struggles of Chinese or Chinese-American women), many of its characters are strong women who have left their mark: Misa Chang, for instance, whose Manhattan restaurant suffered a lack of customers. Her solution? "She printed up hundreds of white paper menus and walked from apartment to apartment herself..." advertising her restaurant and its free delivery service, ultimately inciting a "menu war."

Readers who finish their read wanting more should be pleased to know that Lee continues her adventures in a blog of the same name. Some recent food related posts include "Maybe General Tso had a Mexican Cousin?" and "What is a chop suey sundae?" The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is an easy, captivating read for travel, food, history, and culture enthusiasts.

Written by: Lizz Clements, June 10th 2008