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Five interesting things, among many, from Jennifer 8. Lee's The Fortune Cookie Chronicles:
1. Fortune cookies are Japanese.
2. Everybody in China knows General Tso, but nobody knows General Tso's chicken.
3. The great majority of Chinese restaurant workers in America come from Fujian Province, a region of no particular culinary distinction.
4. Misa Chang, the woman who invented restaurant delivery as we know it, is alive and well and running her Empire Szechuan empire from Manhattan today.
5. Those little plastic packets of black liquid that come with your takeout order contain no actual soy, but are still legally considered to be soy sauce.
The New York Times reporter's terrific book about the Chinese restaurant industry outside of China has been chided here and there for a lack of focus, but her subject is so broad and multifaceted that I think it's a considerable achievement. With chapters on the origins of those white cardboard takeout containers, the harrowing existence of poor, itinerant restaurant workers, why Chinese is the true ethnic food of American Jews, and a globetrotting but essentially futile search for the world's best Chinese restaurant, Lee does an excellent job of demystifying an ubiquitous yet mercurial industry that in many ways is more American than Chinese.
Lee will be in town Thursday at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, 800 S. Halsted, speaking on a program with poet Patrick Rosal. The event, sponsored by the Public Square, runs from 6 to 8 PM; it's free, but reservations are recommended. Call 312-413-5353.