By Kim in Baltimore where April is living up to its shower promises.
On Mulberry Street, a mile or two from where I grew up, sits an abandoned shop that once housed my family’s favorite Chinese restaurant. It was called The White Rice Inn. When Nana didn’t feel like cooking her traditional Sunday feast, or I had a good report card, or some family tragedy had befallen us, we visited The White Rice Inn.
It was an exotic place for a little Irish girl who was use to white potatoes for dinner. I loved it all – lo mein, chow mein, fried rice, chop suey – but none of that compared to what was served afterwards.
At the end of each meal, along with the check, fortune cookies were delivered. There was one for each of us. First you ate the cookie, then everyone had a turn reading aloud what was written on their paper. You had to choose your own cookie, no one could hand it to you.
Through the years I have eaten hundreds – really, I’m not exaggerating – hundreds of fortune cookies, and I have saved nearly every single fortune paper that was tucked inside. I have boxes of fortunes, tiny papers stuffed in drawers, hung on bulletin boards, taped on my laptop, pressed between the pages of books and bursting from my wallet.
In 2004 my family and I took our first cross-country trip to San Francisco on the Amtrak. With such beautiful sites as the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower and Lombard Street to see, I chose the most spectacular of all for our initial tour…The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.
Opened in 1962 and family owned, the factory is located at 56 Ross Alley in China Town. We headed down the alleyway unsure that our directions were correct and finding the sign, stepped into the small establishment. In a cramped room an older woman sat at a table pressing snips of paper between the edges of warm cookies. The aroma of vanilla was heavenly. I held my camera up to snap a photo, but the woman put out her hand towards me.
“No, no. One dollar,” she said. I gladly unfolded the dollar bill from my purse and gave it to her. She shoved it on a shelf where a wad of crumpled bills overflowed from a cigar box. I would have given her ten dollars for the photo had she asked.
I bought so many bags of fortune cookies – who knew they came in chocolate! – and worried they would be eaten or crushed in our suitcases before we returned home. The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is always the top item on my itinerary anytime I visit San Francisco.
Did you know that fortune cookies originated here in the USA and that they were not available in China until 1993? In China the cookies are advertised as “Genuine American Fortune Cookies.” I tried my hand at baking these several years ago for Chinese New Year. The cookies tasted good, but they hardened so quickly I couldn’t get the fortunes inside. Instead I had my guests take a cookie then choose a fortune from a bowl.
Last week I went away on a retreat with my good, good friend, Ramona. About twenty-five writers attended and we were each asked to bring a dessert to share. No, I didn’t bring fortune cookies, but someone else did. A lovely lady named Teresa had baked them herself and they were delicious. Maybe even better than the factory cookies! Inside she had tucked sweet messages such as “eat a brownie” or “what would Dr. Phil say?” Most of them, though, had messages related to writing or being mindful which was good considering we were participating in the Mindful Writers Retreat. Teresa was kind enough to share the recipe with me and gave me permission to share it with you. I haven’t attempted this recipe yet, but it’s on my to-do list.
The night I arrived home from my retreat I was tired from driving and didn’t feel like cooking. We ordered Chinese food. After dinner I went in search of the cookies only to discover someone (I’m not going to mention any names, but if you’re a wife you have one of these!) threw away the take-out bag before removing the cookies. This will never happen again.
Here is the recipe:
5 tablespoons butter, melted*
1 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
4 large egg whites
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons milk
Plug in fortune cookie maker and preheat for 5 minutes (until ready light is on.) Combine egg whites and sugar in a bowl and mix until frothy and well blended. Sift flour and salt into egg white mixture and stir until fully incorporated and lump free. Add melted butter, milk and extracts and blend until the batter is thick and smooth. Coat top and bottom of fortune cookie maker with melted butter and apply a tablespoon of the batter into the center of each plate. Close cover. Cook for 2 minutes, until lightly golden brown, then remove cookie. Working quickly, place fortune in center of cookie and use the folding tools to shape. Fold as directed.
* Let the butter cool after melting, it should be lukewarm when you mix it into the batter.
NOTE: The amount of sugar in the batter determines how dark the fortune cookie gets with baking. Add less sugar to make lighter color fortune cookies.
Kim, this Fortune Cookie Maker comes with a ladle, a fork-shaped thing to lift the cookies off the griddle, two little plastic pieces to hold either end of the cookies to help close them and the top of the plastic box they come in has two indentations to help keep the curved shape. When I need room for the next two, I use a cupcake pan to completely cool them.
I hope you enjoy them!
Readers: has your love of a certain food inspired you to take a trip? Do you keep your fortunes? Do you have a favorite?
I love fortune cookies! Yum!
I’ve never been inspired to travel somewhere because of a certain food, however, I’ve discovered favorite foods during a trip that inspired me to return! Does that count?
That absolutely counts, Annette. What are these foods and where did you discover them?
Chile rellenos at Rubio’s in Aztec, New Mexico. I go out there to visit my best friend every year and our first stop before we even get to her house is Rubio’s!
Also the Cozumel Shrimp Tacos at Uncle Julio’s in Bethesda. OMG, so good! Topped off with a margarita of course! Just one of the reasons I look forward to Malice Domestic every year!
I will need to check out Uncle Julio’s. Sounds good!
Dear good, good friend Kim: I have never taken a trip inspired solely by food, but when I visit my family in Louisiana, my soul is inspired by food! Given the choice, I would travel the earth seeking out creme brulee. Unfortunately, the fortune would say “your waistline will get bigger” and it would come true! Fun blog, and yes, Teresa’s fortune cookies were scrumptious.
My dear good, good friend Ramona,
I must take you to my favorite restaurant in Baltimore where the creme brûlée is scrumptious. That will be our food destination.
Creme brûlée??? OMG, I’m dying here. Can I come????
Absolutely! We’ll have a Baltimore field trip.
Interesting. I never knew fortune cookies originated in America, or that they also come in chocolate. I love good Chinese food. I will travel to find good pizza. ( :
I do love good pizza. The most astounding fact for me was that you could not get fortune cookies in China until 1993. Who knew?
I know where that place is! I used to work in San Francisco, within walking distance of China Town. I never thought of making fortune cookies myself, though.
This recipe was excellent. I’m looking forward to trying it, though I can’t guarantee I’ll do any better at stuffing the fortunes inside.
What an enjoyable blog, Kim. It goes to show you how you can take a simple thing like a fortune cookie and turn it into a really interesting topic.
Thank you, Grace! I’m glad you enjoyed the post today.
Okay, because I haven’t spent ENOUGH money lately, now I want a fortune cookie maker. And my favorite Chinese restaurant is called Hop Kee. It’s on Mott Street in NYC’s Chinatown, in the basement of an old building. They barely speak English and only accept cash. I highly recommend it. In Los Angeles, my favorite restaurant is Hop Li, in L.A.’s Chinatown. If you haven’t picked this up, I love Chinatowns.
I love them, too! We are kindred spirits.
I grew up in the north San Francisco Bay Area and had no idea there was a fortune cookie factory there. Or that they were an American invention.
I’ve always loved fortune cookies. I’m usually not a fan of Chinese food in general, but I do love fortune cookies. Something about that slip of paper inside is so much fun.
It’s like a box of children’s cereal…a surprise in every one.
We had Chinese food Saturday night and I just opened a fortune cookie in your honor. It said, “In all matters of opinion, you always say it better.” Well, I like to think so, but I know others who would disagree.
I have to agree with the cookie, Barb.
Lovely post, Kim!! Teresa was so kind to bring such a fabulous gift to share. I didn’t realize your storied history with fortune cookies but I love it!
My family’s love for Italian food was one of the main reasons we took a tip to Italy in 2012.
We were not disappointed. The food was fabulous!!!
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