The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8 Lee
A book about Chinese food in America doesn’t, on the surface, sound that interesting to me. After reading the book, I’m more firmly convinced than ever that in the hands of a skilled narrator, any topic can become interesting.
The book isn’t tightly organized into one overarching narrative, but instead is more of a series of vignettes filled with trivia. Lee describes the origin of General Tso’s chicken (not to be found in China itself), how fortune cookies are made and how the fortunes are written.
Less interesting to me is the description of her search for the best Chinese restaurant in the world, but that’s a minor part of the book.
Still doesn’t sound that intriguing? It’s hard to fully explain the book’s charm, but I was entranced, and have successfully recommended it to a friend with the advice to just give it a shot and see what she thought. Her verdict? Delightful.
If you think McDonald’s is the most ubiquitous restaurant experience in America, consider that there are more Chinese restaurants in America than McDonalds, Burger Kings, and Wendys combined. New York Times reporter and Chinese-American (or American-born Chinese). In her search, Jennifer 8 Lee traces the history of Chinese-American experience through the lens of the food. In a compelling blend of sociology and history, Jenny Lee exposes the indentured servitude Chinese restaurants expect from illegal immigrant chefs, investigates the relationship between Jews and Chinese food, and weaves a personal narrative about her own relationship with Chinese food. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles speaks to the immigrant experience as a whole, and the way it has shaped our country.
I’m not entirely sure what else to recommend if you like this book. Most of the other food-history books I’ve read I’ve not liked all that much.
I have heard very good things about Mark Kurlansky’s books Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World and Salt: A World History, but I haven’t read them so they’re more of a possibility than a true recommendation.
To see all the books featured in 31 Days of Great Nonfiction Reads, go to the series page.
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