31 Days of Great Nonfiction Reads {Day 18} Fortune Cookie Chronicles

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee. Day 18 of 31 Days of Great Nonfiction Books / Great Nonfiction Reads by The Deliberate ReaderThe Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese FoodThe Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee. Day 18 of 31 Days of Great Nonfiction Books / Great Nonfiction Reads by The Deliberate Reader 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.

Publisher’s Description:
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.

31 Days of Great Nonfiction Reads

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 WorldCod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World and Salt: A World HistorySalt: 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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  1. I also can’t quite put my finger on why this was such a good book, but I enjoyed it too!

    • I tried so hard to figure out why I liked the book so much so I could write a better explanation here, but it eludes me. So I’m glad to know that you also enjoyed it, and also can’t quite say why.

      I have found that journalists generally know how to tell a story in a way that I find engaging, so nonfiction books on a topic that might not grab me just for the topic alone, if written by a journalist I’m more inclined to give a chance.

      That is a really convoluted sentence, but it’s the best I can do with interruptions. Hopefully it makes some sense!

  2. Ooh, I need to read this one! One of my coworkers is Chinese (immigrant, not Chinese-American), and her uncle owns a couple of Chinese restaurants here. We talk a lot about real Chinese food versus American-Chinese food; I wonder if she might enjoy the book as well.

    • If she reads it I’d love to know her opinion!

    • After living in China for a year, I came home with a level of back street food experience (bordering on snobbery) that took the happy away from me going to my home city’s “Happy Dragon” restaurant for me. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But I have found one little hole in the wall with amazingly authentic “ji rou chao mian” (chicken fried noodles) and one Chinese friend taught me how to make some easy homemade comfort food (search: “comfort food” on my blog and you’ll find it). Anyway, I had never heard of this book but it sounds like a really fun read.

      • It’s funny, because my friend says that actually the food she’s found that’s most similar to something she would actually eat at home is Panera’s Asian Chicken Salad. She said the dressing is almost exactly like what you would serve with a cold appetizer (I think there wouldn’t be chicken in the salad, it would just be an appetizer and not a main dish) before a meal, and that Panera’s chef must have been to China. o_0

        • That is funny. And it makes me want to try that salad; I’ve been there before but I’ve never tried it. Wonder if there chef really had been to China or if it developed some other way.

          • No idea. Also, once our other coworker asked her if he could have her family recipe for fortune cookies and was so disappointed to learn that they don’t actually eat fortune cookies in China…luckily she finds all this pretty amusing and doesn’t take offense.

          • That is hilarious that someone asked for her family recipe for fortune cookies.

      • It was a lot of fun for me – I’m not sure how you’d like it with your background. Although it’s a really quick read, so it’d be easy to check it out from the library and see if it’s to your taste. Sorry, couldn’t resist the food pun.

        Is this chicken fried noodles place nearby? Because I’m curious enough that I’d like to try it if it is. And if I can get someone to go with me. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I loved, loved, loved this book! I learned that crab rangoon is mainly a midwest dish (and a yummy one at that). I did read Salt and it was a great book but very dense!

    • Good to know about Salt – it’ll stay on my TBR list but it might be awhile before I get to it.

      Who am I kidding, of course it’ll be awhile before I get to it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. If you accepts awards, I’ve just nominated you for the Liebster Award – because you’re awesome ๐Ÿ™‚ http://doingdeweydecimal.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/liebster-award/

    • Thank you very much! I haven’t actually thought about whether or not I accept awards, since this is such a new blog. I appreciate it!

  5. I am so intrigued, Sheila! Thanks for the recommendation!

  6. Wow! Looks like this needs to go on my to-read list ASAP! So many of you loved it!

    • I love the enthusiastic response to this one; I almost didn’t include it because it’s so hard to explain why I love it so much. I decided that I had to, and I’m so glad I did. ๐Ÿ™‚


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