The book starts by examining the lottery: why was it that on March 30, 2005, there were so many lottery winners? When it began to emerge that the lotto winners had been betting the numbers on their fortune cookies, that sets the stage for Jennifer 8 Lee’s amazing book.
Certain books leave you euphoric, certain books strike you as profound. And while I didn’t get the same kind of intellectual high with “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles” as I did with, say, “Godel, Escher, Bach” or “Guns, Germs, and Steel”, Jennifer 8 Lee’s book has an awful lot to say about what it is to be Chinese, what is good Chinese, and the role and place of the vast array of hyphenated Chinese cuisines.
If you read nothing else, please read Chapter 14, the chapter titled “The Greatest Chinese Restaurant in the World.” In 40-someodd pages it encapsulates the food blogger’s dilemma. She’s really good about explaining each and every candidate restaurant, and then explaining her final choice. I would have picked differently, myself. It’s an interesting exercise trying to decide which one would have been your favorite.
Other than that it’s an education in how Chinese restaurants work. It follows workers and families as they migrate from New York City to the rest of the states, follows their troubles and pains. It talks about illegal immigration, and the regions of China most responsible for the girl who hands you your menus and cleans up your table.
The book talks evocatively about Chinese restaurants as spontaneous self-organizing networks, an open source food model as compared to the closed model of food chains, and also about the history of the fortune cookie, ending the search in 19th century Japan.
Yet, in the process, it remains light and breezy and accessible.
Verdict: a blogger must read. You don’t understand Chinese critically – seriously, I don’t care how much of it you’ve personally cooked – as a cuisine until you read this thing.
Oh, yes, and afterwards, I just had to have Chinese. This is a lamb dish from the Chinese menu of Man Chun Hong.