by Sara Hayden

Introducing the new Foodist Peninsula

As a kid, I used to like it when my family brought home giant “unfortunate” bags. This is what we called lucky cookies that were broken or otherwise failed to fold into perfectly formed shells.

Very few, if any, contained current sheets of paper predicting lucky numbers or future wisdom. In fact, most of them were flat bracelets. They were delicious – crunchy cookie-shaped pancakes emanating from a bunch of sugar and vanilla.

But somewhere down the line, I became aware of their taste, and even of their luckier colleagues. Fortune cookies have a complicated (and interesting) history, starting with Japan. The tea house at the Golden Gate Park Japanese Tea Garden may have been just the first restaurant in the US to serve them.

Finding out that the fortune cookies were not of Chinese origin made me question my relationship with them. I also began to depend on what was true of my heritage, and what was not.

All these years later, I appreciate the direct acquisition of the new restaurant owner Nee Lau for cookies. In an interview, he told me he was incorporating them into The Mandarin in Menlo Park, alongside Cantonese and Czech specialties.

“Some people ask, ‘Why are you making gambling cookies?’ “You know what? People like it,” Lau said. “And fortune cookies (are) something I like.”

You know what? I also like fortune cookies!

What I love most about food is that it reveals personal experiences and broader cultural narratives. Every dish and even a single cookie has a story to tell, given by the endless network of people involved in its creation.

As a young Peninsula Foodist, I look forward to sharing these stories, and breaking bread (or fortune cookies) with you to learn more about who we are. See you at the table.

Check out Sara Hayden, Peninsula Foodist, at Or sign up to get her free newsletter about the dynamic, under the food radar around the Peninsula, published every other week, by going to express. Do you have tips, comments or recipes? Email Sara on the Peninsula[email protected]

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