The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

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SPEAKER: Jennifer Lee
EVENT DATE: 03/17/2009
RUNNING TIME: 64 minutes


Who writes those little messages in fortune cookies and how do fortune cookie makers get their lucky numbers? For that matter, where did fortune cookies originate - should the U.S., China or Japan claim credit? Did General Tso cook his own chicken, and why was there a lawsuit over who invented chop suey? If our benchmark for Americanness is apple pie, why do so many Americans eat Chinese food far more often than they eat apple pie?

The answers to these and other fascinating questions was explored by Jennifer 8. Lee (her middle name connotes "prosperity" in Chinese), as she discussed her recent book "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food."

Lee is a New York Times reporter. In 2005, she set out to research a story on the unusually large number of Powerball Lottery winners who obtained their lucky numbers through fortune cookies. Lee crisscrossed the country to explore the winners' stories and where they had obtained their cookies. This research, in turn, led to explorations of Chinese restaurants, their owners and workers, the commonality of the menus across the country, the iconic white takeout cartons, soy-sauce packets, cookies and other aspects of the Chinese food industry.

Speaker Biography: The daughter of Chinese immigrants growing up in New York City, Jennifer 8. Lee wondered why her mother's Chinese food was so different from that obtained in Chinese restaurants. Her lifelong curiosity about these food questions and her extensive research and interviewing skills have produced in "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles" an entertaining exploration of the culinary, social and cultural history of Chinese food in America. Lee graduated from Harvard University with a degree in applied mathematics and economics and an intense desire to become a writer. She studied at Beijing University, and at the age of 24 was hired by the New York Times as a metro reporter. She is well known for her lively cultural stories and her frequent "City Room" blogs on

SERIES: Books & Beyond