The Real Story of Fortune Cookies

Drawing courtesy of foundsf.org

Visitors come from around the world to enjoy San Francisco’s sites. And more recently, the City has become a “foodie” destination. But our impact on food trends goes back to the earliest beginnings of our City.

In 1894, San Francisco hosted the California Midwinter International Exposition. One of the exhibits was a Japanese village that was turned into the Japanese Tea Garden by Makoto Hagiwara at the conclusion of the fair. He designed the garden and then presented it to the City.

The garden included a tea pavilion. To accompany the tea, Hagiwara started serving crisp cookies, the type that were served in shines and temples in Japan. These cookies were folded to contain an “omikuji,” or fortune slip, making them “fortune cookies.”

Hagiwara’s family originally made the cookies by hand. As early as 1907, he engaged the Benkyodo Japanese bakery in San Francisco to produce the cookies. But no one thought to patent the recipe or the method for making the cookies.

Chinese restaurants started serving the cookies in the 1960s. In 1962, the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in opened in Ross Alley in Chinatown. They make the cookies with a machine, but they are still folded by hand:

Today, about three billion fortune cookies are consumed annually world-wide, with most of those being consumed in the United States.  Our gratitude goes to Mr. Hagiwara and our Japanese Tea Garden.

Best wishes,

Carol