January/February Pick 2011

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles
Cover of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles
by Jennifer 8. Lee

In her first book, New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee has cooked up a deliciously entertaining history of the Chinese food industry in the United States.

Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, focuses not on the ancient art of Chinese cuisine but rather on the relatively recent history of North American Chinese restaurant fare -- take-out included. An interesting fact dished out by the author is that the number of Chinese restaurants in the U.S. exceeds the total of all the McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s outlets combined. We learn, too, that Chinese food is served on all seven continents (even Antarctica).

What would the story be without something sweet and sour? Besides discoursing on the sweet treat mentioned in the title, the author provides sour reports of recent immigrants leading nomadic lives as restaurant workers, frequently bused into far-off small town restaurants. She also points out the dangers faced by those who deliver Chinese food -- among the most dangerous jobs in America.

For On the Same Page, the Library has purchased the paperback edition published by Twelve, an imprint of Hachette.

Related Event

Chinatown Branch, 2:30-4:00 p.m. - February 19, 2011

Related Exhibit

San Francisco Eats

About the Author

The author’s self-description on Twitter as “Journalist and Dumpling-maker” shows that Jennifer 8. Lee takes food seriously, if seasoned with humor. She has a proven way with words, having coined the term “man date” in her New York Times article which describes what happens when two heterosexual men socialize without a context of business or sports. A fluent speaker of Mandarin Chinese and the daughter of immigrants from China, she grew up eating her mother's authentic Chinese food in the family's New York City kitchen. After graduating from Harvard in 1999 with a degree in Applied Mathematics and Economics and studying at Beijing University, Ms. Lee was hired at the age of 24 by the New York Times as a metro reporter. She has written stories on culture, poverty, and technology.


"Readers will take an unexpected and entertaining journey—through culinary, social and cultural history—in this delightful first book on the origins of the customary after-Chinese-dinner treat…The book’s a winner." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The fascinating connections and historical details that give faces and names to the restaurants and products that have become part of a universal American experience…will appeal to teens who are interested in history, Chinese culture, and, of course, cuisine [and to] sophisticated readers who revel in the details and history that help explain our current global culture." - School Library Journal

"Lee embeds her subject's history in an entertaining personal narrative, eschewing cookie-cutter interviews and dry lists of facts and figures…she has a breezy, likable literary demeanor that makes the first-person material engaging. Thanks to Lee's journalistic chops, the text moves along energetically even in its more expository sections,…tasty morsels delivered quickly and reliably." - Kirkus Reviews

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