No trip to Chinatown in San Francisco is complete without a visit to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Ross Alley. Hidden away down a small side street just off Jackson Street the factory is a bit of Chinatown history. You can also get some great souvenir cookies there as well.
The factory is open every day from 9am – 6pm and admission is free. You can see the production line in action. The cookie dough is cut into disks cooked on a moving belt and then moved to a forming area. Here a skilled operator takes the pliable cooling cookie. With a deft movement he inserts a fortune and bends the cookie into shape. And that’s it hey presto one delicious fortune cookie!
A fortune cookie is made from flour, sugar, vanilla, and sesame seed oil and has a piece of paper inside on which a saying, proverb or prophecy and sometimes some lucky lottery numbers is written. Usually this is printed in Chinese and translated into English. However, fortune cookies are not traditionally Chinese. But they are often served as a dessert in Chinese restaurants in Western countries. The origin of fortune cookies is unclear although the Chinese community in San Francisco claim that they invented them.
The most likely origin is from cookies made by Japanese immigrants to the US in the late 19th Century. A similar cookie was made in Kyoto, Japan from the 19th Century. This was part of the Japanese random fortune tradition, omikuji.
At the Factory
The factory is definitely worth a visit and although small is often packed out with tourists. However, they don’t generally stay very long so you won’t wait for long.
As you go in there are flat cookie samples to taste for free and a huge range of cookies to buy. Watch the cookie maker at work as they’ll be seated right in front of you. When you visit you are allowed to take all the pictures you want.
However, the company requests that if you do take pictures, either leave 50 cents in the tip jar, or buy some fortune cookies. These only cost a dollar or two and there are loads of varieties to chose from (flavoured, chocolate coated, giant cookies, even ones with rude messages!)