They’re far from cookie-cutter fortunes.
New York City restaurants are baking up inventive — and sometimes naughty — fortune cookies to ring in Chinese New Year, which starts Monday.
“I didn’t want a generic cookie,” says Stratis Morfogen, owner at Jue Lan Club, a recently opened Chinese restaurant in the Flatiron District.
The restaurant regularly dishes out custom cookies with around 50 different sentiments, but Morfogen, who dreams them up, has added a fresh batch to ring in the Year of the Monkey.
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“I want people to believe the fortunes are customized for them,” he adds.
There’s certainly nothing stale about them.
Take the innuendo-filled, “Man who walk through airport turnstile sideways is going to Bangkok;” a joke Morfogen’s brother told him before hurling a baseball at his crotch.
Or the one that reads, “It takes many nails to build a crib and one screw to fill it,” a line he and his wife thought up while building their newborn a crib.
“These are a combination of shock value and humor,” says Morfogen, who has some provocative lines that aren’t appropriate for a family newspaper.
“I love humor. It’s the best therapy,” he says, adding that the notes take the edge off of paying the bill.
Getting the funny phrases into fancy fortune cookies is no frugal feat. Morfogen’s invested thousands of dollars in the cookies that are custom-made and individually packaged by a Palo Alto, California-based company. According to the company’s website, 10,000 of the custom cookies cost $1,000, in comparison to $260 for the same amount from wholesale company Wonton Food Inc., a Brooklyn-based business which provides fortune cookies for many Chinese restaurants in New York.
It seems to be paying off.
Morfogen has special molding that prints the restaurant’s logo and social media handle on the back of each fortune slip. So he gets free advertising every time customers Instagram or Tweet photos of their fortunes.
One misspelled and grammatically incorrect fortune reads: “If you want preety nurse, you go to be patient.”
Morfogen admits he intentionally spells some fortunes wrong. “When you see Chinese fortune cookies, they’re usually spelled wrong,” he says. “It’s just making a joke out of it. It’s in no way a slap to the Chinese culture. We embrace it and honor it.”
He says the only complaint he’s gotten was from a non-Chinese person, who called them “offensive and tacky.”
But some parents have complained that the fortunes are too X-rated for kids.
So Morfogen created a G-rated line of red-colored cookies for his staff to distribute accordingly.
The cookies even taste better than most. Adult fortunes are chocolate flavored, and the kid versions are strawberry.
“Vanilla was too obvious,” says Morfogen.
The fortune cookie has come a long way since 1918, when a Chinese immigrant living in Los Angeles passed out cookies with Bible verses inside for free.
They gained mainstream popularity after World War II, and later included lucky numbers and smiley faces.
At Tao restaurant’s Midtown and Chelsea locations, fortunes are a communal affair.
The trendy chain’s best-selling dessert is a giant fortune cookie ($14), packed with white and dark chocolate mousse. But people really order it for the playful super-sized fortunes.
Chef and partner Ralph Scamardella is one of the masterminds behind the large strips of parchment that diner’s take home as a souvenir.
“The year of the monkey is all about looking forward and living life to its fullest,” says Scamardella.
To mark the new year, he’s changed the color of the fortune paper from from white to red, a symbol of luck and happiness in Chinese. Each cookie boasts positive and sexy sayings.
“If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to meet it,” reads one.
Another is, “You are exactly where you are supposed to be.”
More adventurous ones tease, “Maybe I’m too late to be your first. But right now, I’m preparing myself to be your last.”
“They’re great icebreakers and even better pickup lines,” says Scamardella.
Buddakan, a lavish Asian chain with a Chelsea location, takes a more traditional approach to Lunar New Year by stuffing hand-picked Chinese proverbs into red envelopes that are given out to customers. The envelopes are similar to those filled with money that are given out by Chinese people during the holiday to family members.
Some of the lucky diners will also find coupons for free drinks or appetizers in their envelope.
“Have a mouth as sharp as dagger but a heart as soft as tofu,” reads one fortune here.
“When I’m picking proverbs, I’m looking for something that embodies wisdom,” says Tina Long, an employee who’s chosen about 30 different quotes to be distributed at the restaurant’s celebratory Chinese New Year dim sum brunch on Feb 14.
“A lot of them are based on love and good tidings to people,” she adds.
“But most people like the proverb that says ‘free brunch.’”
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