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Unfortunate cookie? A bitter message in a sweet cookie

How does such a nasty little message end up in a sweet, crunchy fortune cookie? (Linda Thomas photo)

“You will be rewarded for your kindness.”

“Your charm will be called upon to resolve a problem.”

“Use soft words and hard arguments.”

Those are the kind of messages we find at the end of meal at a Chinese restaurant, after we hear the satisfying sound of a bow-shaped-vanilla-smelling fortune cookie crumbling in our hands.

“A secret adventure is near for you.”

Exciting! The message doesn’t mean anything, but it makes us smile for a moment.

One week ago, I had lunch with my beautiful mom at a Chinese restaurant in the small town of Decorah, Iowa.

I reached for my fortune cookie first, thinking it would be a message that captured the lovely day I was having with my mom, who I only get to see once a year.

“The greatest danger could be your stupidity.”

What? Go ahead and laugh in agreement.

A danger? Possibly. But the greatest danger, presumably in the entire world, is my stupidity?

Mom’s fortune, incidentally, did not say “You are with stupid.”

How does that kind of message get hidden in crunchy goodness?

A week later, I’m still curious so I checked out the Tsue Chong Noodle and Fortune Cookie factory in Seattle’s International District.

“Some people say it’s amazing how the fortune comes true. To me, that’s just a total fluke by chance,” says Tim Louie, a fourth-generation manager of the company.

Louie’s great-grandfather started the noodle company in 1917 when he emigrated from China to Seattle. It was his great-grandmother who decided they should make fortune cookies at the factory, even though the cookies are an American-made product with an origin in San Francisco.

Louie described the process his great-grandmother used in an interview with The Seattle Times a few years ago.

“She formulated the basic cookie batter ingredients of flour, sugar, vanilla, water, eggs, and coconut oil into her own special batter formula,” Louie said.

“The batter is poured onto a round griddle that forms that pancake shape. The batter is baked for approximately four minutes in an oven at 400 degrees. After baking the pancakes are removed, folded into that butterfly shape by mechanical folders and the fortunes are inserted by vacuum now.”

Now he’s getting to the part I’m interested in – the fortune, or in my case unfortunate, message.

“We don’t write or create our fortunes here,” he says. “We buy our fortunes from a printing company in the Bay Area.”

The Bay Area company uses a rose symbol on its fortune messages. My cookie message didn’t come from there.

I traced it to a New York company called Wonton Food. They’re the largest fortune cookie maker in the country producing almost five million fortune cookies a day.

Wonton Food made headlines in 2005 when 110 people won about $19 million in the Powerball lottery after playing a “lucky number” sequence from the back of a Wonton fortune.

The company has about 10,000 fortunes they rotate through. Five years ago they introduced 600 new fortunes that they admit were a little more edgy.

“Today is a disastrous day. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,”

After the company received some complaints they backed off the less-than-inspiring messages. Several smaller companies popped up specializing in fortune cookie insult writing.

“Perhaps you’ve been focusing too much on yourself.”

“Marriage lets you annoy one special person for the rest of your life.”

My message to you, “Have a relaxing, refreshing Memorial Day weekend.”

By LINDA THOMAS

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