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on August 1, 2017
American Chinese food is, to me, a fascinating concept as it’s neither American nor Chinese – as the author found when she tried to trace General Tso in his home town and found the military hero, not the culinary genius. This book almost couldn’t have been written without the show and tell of digital photography where she used her camera to show various dishes as she tried to track them across China. This coming from a woman who spoke Mandarin was essential as I don’t think she’d have gotten half the stories she did without that tie.

I loved the two-fold premise of the book, tracking the iconic fortune cookie from its creation in Japan, or maybe Korea, or possibly even California to the winning lottery tickets as well as the author’s own heritage. Her early chapters, and the final wrap including her father, who was “a PhD away from being a delivery man” being admonished not to leave menus when he brought food to a sick friend, reminded me a little of Steven Shaw’s Setting the Table as he was also a fan of Upper West Side Chinese. The book perfectly toed the line between memoirs and food & travel writing and is a fit for fans of both genres.

I especially enjoyed her trip around the world to find the “best” Chinese food. Such a fun part of travel. Although I’m not personally a huge fan of Chinese food, I might have to sample more of it.
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on September 2, 2014
Jennifer 8. Lee uses a search for the origin of fortune cookies to take us on a historical tour of America's favorite ethnic food, Chinese cooing. And what a trip it is. As might be expected for something as humble as the fortune cookie, there is not a clear documented history. Nevertheless, through a lot of sleuthing, as well as talking to other fortune cookie detectives, Lee shows how the origin in a Japan where a cracker made at temples morphed into the cookie we know today. There, of course, is a bit of tragedy in the story. Many of the Japanese bakeries that had been supplying the early cookies to Chinese restaurants in the 30s were all closed when the Japanese-Americans were locked up in internment camps during WW2. Chinese bakers took over, and the fortune cookie's fate was sealed.

Lee also delves into the history of Chinese restaurants in the US, and their ubiquitous appearance. She explores the challenges and sociological aspects of running and staffing the restaurants, and discusses the illegal immigration, using the famous Golden Venture ship grounding in New York, which supplies so many of the waiters, dishwashers and cooks who make-up the workforce of the industry.

Lee also reveals the history of some of the most popular Americanized dishes, General Tso's chicken and Chow Mein, which are unrecognizable back in China. Her search for the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world reveals all the different forms that Chinese food takes. In many countries that immigrants have moved to, they then adapted Chinese cuisine for local tastes.

Lee tells a fascinating story that jumps from dish to dish, leaving us more knowledgeable and more appreciative of the stir fry in front of us.
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on April 20, 2008
If you like Chinese food, you should read this book. It will tell you everything you should have wondered about chop suey, fortune cookies, the Chinese restaurant industry and the Chinese people who have brought more than food to the United States

Ms. Lee uses her healthy curiosity and excellent research skills to study something we generally take for granted -- Chinese food is so unbiquitous as to be invisible, except when we're hungry. Being the daughter of Chinese immigrants and a New York Times reporter gives Ms. Lee the right lenses for studying her subject and produces insights that are subtle, interesting and thought-provoking. For example: How best to know the actual output of a Chinese restaurant when thinking about buying it? Count the garbage bags in the alley. Why were did Chinese laundries and restaurants survive 19th Century bigotry against the Chinese? Because cooking and washing were women's work and didn't threaten the white male labor force.

Equally as good as Ms. Lee's insights is her writing style. She has a tone that is a bit ironic, a bit whimsical. She appreciates the goofiness of what she is investigating, but also treats the topic respectfully. These are fine balances for a writer to maintain. And she brings many of her points home with a tidy turn of phrase: "Young professionals loved the idea that food could come from a phone rather than a stove." Or, "Common wisdom from one culture is perplexing in another." Or, finally, by describing American soy sauce as a "Frankensauce chemical counterfeit."
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on April 12, 2008
My husband is the foodie in the family but I was the one to buy this book and found it highly entertaining...and it made me hungry for kung pao chicken (authentic, I was pleased to learn). Determining the source of the ubiquitous dessert takes this Chinese-American writer down alleys in Japan, from NYC to San Francisco, and to the discovery of a distinct cuisine: Chinese-American, loved the world over as American. From chop suey to kosher duck to soy sauce and take-out menus, Lee examines Chinese food in the diaspora while redefining American food. "One benchmark for Americanness is apple pie. But ask yourself: How often do you eat apple pie? How often do you eat Chinese food?" Lee is a NY Times reporter and has a keen eye for detail and a ready wit whether she is explaining those little white boxes, soy sauce, immigration or a Portuguese Chinatown.
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on November 6, 2013
This morning, I had the pleasure of finishing Jennifer Lee's enchanting book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.

What a book! It takes the reader literally around the world to answer the perennial question of where fortune cookies truly come from. (I won't spoil it.) But it's not just about fortune cookies, oh no - it's an examination of the history of Chinese restaurants (of which there are more in the United States than there are McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King combined); Powerball winners (one year, there were ~110 Powerball winners who got their lucky five-of-six numbers from fortune cookies); and more.

Well-written and engaging, the book pulled me in from the beginning. I was hooked - couldn't wait to go back for more.

I will say that it was a little longer than I expected, coming in at 291 pages - but I flagged only briefly about 2/3 of the way in. There was enough new and different material to keep me engaged, and Lee did a good job at circling back to the initial premises of the book, notably the fortune-cookie origin dilemma and the Powerball numbers.

4/5 stars.
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on December 24, 2014
Ms. Lee's book is a well-researched history, ostensibly of fortune cookies and Chinese food, but more importantly, of how Chinese food around the world and particularly in America is a reflection of the Chinese diaspora experience. If you've ever wondered about anything having to do with Chinese-American culture and even if you haven't, you should read this book. If you take your delivery man or the woman at the takeout counter or the chef churning out General Gao's chicken for granted, I promise that you won't after reading this book.
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on March 3, 2018
Fascinating book. Well-written, easy and enjoyable to follow along. I love the layout of the paperback, too. It’s fun.
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on August 10, 2008
When you think about it - it is amazing there aren't any national chains with Chinese restaurants in every town. But this book explains why. It's an amazing story of immigration to probably 99% of the cities and towns in America. No matter where Americans travel in the US - we want Chinese food - and we get it!
A very interesting story of cultures and their expectations. It makes me wonder how Amerians in China for the Olympics are eating! Are they eating "Real Chinese food" or what we have come to expect of Chinese food!
Great story, with many interesting things to learn.
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on January 4, 2017
Insightful, thoughtful, with a lot of background provided by the ethnic backgrounds of the author, who is Chinese-American. BOTH sides of that background are necessary to tell the story she wishes to convey, and does well. It is also an easy, entertaining read.
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on October 15, 2014
Ms. Lee is an excellent writer and can make the most improbably subjects enjoyable to read about. Seemed to stretch out some topics longer than needed, but the human interest portions were a pleasant surprise. An enjoyable read.

I'd seen her TED talk and was inspired to buy the book.
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