“Hope is like food. You will starve without it.”
I don’t know if there’s anyone in the United States who doesn’t know what a fortune cookie is. The ubiquitous symbol of takeout Chinese food all over the country, the little fortune cookie heralds both the end of the meal and the beginning of a mystery. What will your fortune be? Will it be insightful? Witty? Will it make you laugh? Can you put “in bed” at the end of it and laugh even more? And most importantly, how helpful will the lottery numbers and “Learn Chinese” phrase on the other side be in your future?
But what most people don’t realize is that fortune cookies aren’t Chinese at all. They most probably originate from a Japanese cookie that contained fortunes written on smal slips of paper–a tradition that was brought to the United States in the late 19th century during the influx of Japanese immigrants to California. The cookies differ in ingredients and texture but the idea is all the same. The concept of these cookies being a staple for the end of a Chinese dinner probably came around during World War II and the rise in anti-Japanese sentiments around the country. Their popularity boomed after the war, and now over three billion fortune cookies are made around the world each year, most of which come right from the Wonton Food Company factory in Brooklyn. So while New York is far from being the inventor of the fortune cookie, you can say we’re keeping the future of fortunes alive!
(Interestingly enough, they tried to introduce fortune cookies into China in 1992, but the idea was rejected when they were deemed to be “too American”!)
Now, I’m not going to tell you to go out to Brooklyn and have a tour of the Wonton Food factory (though you totally can if you want!), or say that eating one of those stale, slightly flavored fortune cookies is a good way to celebrate Fortune Cookie Day. (Let’s be honest here, fortune cookies aren’t the tastiest cookies around.) But you can get a fortune cookie in New York that’s decadent, delicious, and most of all…big. We’re not talking about your normal end-of-the-meal cookie here. We’re talking about Tao!
Set in the old Palace movie theater on 58th Street, Tao Asian Bistro has become one of the trendiest spots for new Asian cuisine. This ain’t no tea house on Mott Street: their high-end, modern Asian dishes include bamboo-steamed vegetable dumplings, wasabi-crusted filet mignon, and Chilean sea bass satay. But for a new spin on a Chinese-American tradition, Tao still will serve you a fortune cookie at the end of your meal. And boy, what a cookie! This isn’t like anything you’ve seen wrapped in cellophane sitting atop your dinner bill. Each cookie is a massive testament to the original fortune cookie and the gluttonous decadence of modern American cuisine. Partially dipped in chocolate, the cookie is filled with white chocolate mousse and decorated with fruits, nuts, and basically anything else yummy they could find in the kitchen! This fortune cookie isn’t just for one, however–unless you plan to eat only a fortune cookie for your meal. No, this treat is meant to be shared among everyone at your table, and to keep that sharing going, each person gets their own unique fortune. They’re not baked into the center of the cookie, unfortunately, but considering there’s a ton of white chocolate mousse inside instead, you’ll be sure to forgive them 😉 I think this is a super well-conceptualized and executed spin on such an iconic Chinese-American confection. And while most of my favorite Chinese restaurants still serve the little, plastic-wrapped cookies, I may have to stop by Tao and try one of these bad boys out!
Tao Asian Bistro
42 E 58th St (between Madison Ave & Park Ave)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“One of our party members got the epic giant fortune cookie which was stuffed with chocolate and vanilla mousse. The cookie itself was crispy and lightly sweet, much better than normal fortune cookies. I really enjoyed the cream filling as well, this is probably a must if you’re going to come here.”–Carol C.
“We got Tao’s famous Giant Fortune Cookie. Served with fresh fruit and drizzled chocolate, this big fortune is half filled with chocolate mousse and the other half with white chocolate mousse, and not to forget 4 big fortunes written out on long scraps of paper!”–Joohee K.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!