99% Invisible: A Sweet Surprise Awaits You

Mar 4, 2016

On the March 4, 2016 edition of 99% Invisible.

On the night of March 30, 2005, the Powerball jackpot was 25 million dollars. The grand prize winner was in Tennessee, but all over the United States, one hundred and ten second-place winners came forward. Normally just three or four players guess all but the last digit and claim a secondary prize, but this time something was clearly different.

Lottery officials were flustered, unsure if there was a computer glitch or a hack in the system, but when they asked the winners how they picked their numbers each had the same response: from a fortune cookie.

What we call Chinese food (including the fortune-filled cookies) has become an integral part of the American culture and cuisine, with a complex history that dates back to the 19th Century.

Around the 1850s, new Chinese immigrants were seen as a threat to jobs occupied by American males such as mining, farming and manual labor. After a wave of anti-Chinese violence,  Chinese immigrants began to work in laundries and restaurants: industries traditionally associated with women’s work [...]