THE FORTUNE COOKIE CHRONICLES: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, by Jennifer 8. Lee. (Twelve, $13.) An American-born Chinese (and a New York Times reporter), Lee investigates the Chinese restaurant business — the origin of fortune cookies (Japan), the beginning of door-to-door delivery in New York, the relationship of General Tso to the dish that bears his name. She also looks at the difficult lives of Chinese restaurant workers.
About: 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 by New York Times reporter Lee. When a large number of Powerball winners in a 2005 drawing revealed that mass-printed paper fortunes were to blame, the author went in search of the backstory. She tracked the winners down to Chinese restaurants all over America, and the paper slips the fortunes are written on back to a Brooklyn company. This travel-like narrative serves as the spine of her cultural history—not a book on Chinese cuisine, but the Chinese food of take-out-and-delivery—and permits her to frequently but safely wander off into various tangents related to the cookie. There are satisfying mini-histories on the relationship between Jews and Chinese food and a biography of the real General Tso, but Lee also pries open factoids and tidbits of American culture that eventually touch on large social and cultural subjects such as identity, immigration and nutrition. Copious research backs her many lively anecdotes, and being American-born Chinese yet willing to scrutinize herself as much as her objectives, she wins the reader over. From Publishers Weekly.