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Fortune Cookie
Lucky Numbers:

Martin Fuentes is proof that it pays to be patient, to persevere and, of course, to listen to a mother who had a hunch about one particular fortune cookie.

The retired mailman from Des Plaines, Illinois, won a $200,000 jackpot prize by repeatedly playing the lucky numbers he found inside a fortune cookie three years ago while eating dinner with his mother.

"She knew that I liked to play the lotto and we were having takeout Chinese food, and as I'm cracking open a fortune cookie, she said, 'Well you should play these lucky numbers.' And I said OK, just for you, ma," Fuentes, 73, told ABC News of his mom, who died about a year ago at age 90.

Every single digit on Fuentes' fortuitous ticket matched all five winning numbers from the Nov. 19 Lucky Day Lotto evening drawing:
As for his plans, the father of two sons and daughters told ABC News today "everybody is going to get a little extra Christmas gift this year. All cash. I know they can use cash better than me going out and getting something."

He won't be winning again with those same numbers. "I still play," he said. "But I am not playing lucky lotto or the fortune cookie numbers, just regular lotto with my family's birthdays."

Fuentes purchased his Lucky Day Lotto ticket at a 7-Eleven in Des Plaines, according to a Illinois lottery statement.

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The winning ticket was also shared with one other individual, who bought their ticket at a tobacco store in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Each store will collect $2,000, or the equivalent of 1 percent of the prize amount, for selling the winning ticket, the Illinois Lottery said in a statement.

A fortune cookie is a crisp cookie usually made from flour, sugar, vanilla, and oil with a "fortune" wrapped inside. A "fortune" is a piece of paper with words of wisdom or a vague prophecy. The message inside may also include a Chinese phrase with translation or a list of lucky numbers used by some as lottery numbers, some of which have become actual lucky winner numbers.

Fortune cookies are often served as a dessert in Chinese restaurants in the United States and some other countries, but are absent in China. The exact provenance of fortune cookies is unclear, though various immigrant groups in California claim to have popularized them in the early 20th century, basing their recipe on a traditional Japanese cracker. Fortune cookies have been summarized as being "introduced by the Japanese, popularized by the Chinese, but ultimately ... consumed by Americans."

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How They Became "Chinese":

The person who invented the "Chinese" fortune cookie is up for debate. Several people have put their hand up, but I reckon only two claims are worth serious consideration: some people believe it was Kito Seiichi of the Fugetsu-do shop in LA, and others believe it was Hagiwara Makoto of SF's Japanese Tea Garden.

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Both men were Japanese immigrants and likely knew about fortune cookies and how to make them - but my money's on Hagiwara Makoto. As the story goes, he first made and served it alongside green tea in 1914. This modified, sweetened version was so popular that Hagiwara decided to get them made on a commercial scale. In 1918, Benkyodo stepped in to become the Japanese Tea Garden's exclusive supplier of fortune cookies. Descendants on both sides corroborate the other's story, which I think is as good as it'll get in terms of evidence.

Soon, several other bakeries began to make and sell fortune cookies; Umeya, for example, supplied them to both Japanese- and Chinese-owned restaurants. The bombing of Pearl Harbor really put a spanner in the works though. Japanese-Americans were sent away to internment camps, which basically meant the end of many Japanese businesses.

Now that the competition had been taken out, Chinese businesses experienced a huge boom. Chinese restaurants still served fortune cookies, of course, and people just began to think of them as a Chinese thing. There was a strong anti-Japanese sentiment at the time, so I really don't blame the Chinese for keeping mum and letting their customers believe what they wanted to believe.

In any case, although several Japanese bakeries did make a comeback after WWII, by that point fortune cookies were irrevocably Chinese. They were still as popular as ever, though: it was only a matter of time before it spread all over the US, and then all over the globe. Well, except for China, anyway. "Too American," apparently.

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