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Friday, September 3, 2010

Chinatown: Fortune Cookie Factory

While I have memories of visiting the fortune cookie factory on a family vacation 30 years ago, I had never taken my kids. So we headed out in search of San Francisco's Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Zachary really wanted a tour, though I kept telling him I didn't think there was an actual tour. My memory was of a dark room with women folding the warm cookies by hand. Enough to see, but not much to tour.

The sign says the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory has been around since 1962, but it looks much older.

The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie "factory" is at 56 Ross Alley, between Jackson and Washington, Stockton and Grant. An old man sat out front eagerly inviting us inside. Once in the door, one of the employees greeted us with round samples of flat cookies that never made it to fortune cookie status. I took a photo of her handing them out, and she said loudly "50 cents a photo." So this blog post cost me $1, in addition to the cookies I bought. (I didn't pay for the photo above since it was outside the factory).

Inside you'll see three women sitting in a line (not facing each other so they can talk easily), each by a cookie machine. The batter automatically pours into a mold (you can see it behind the woman in the photo below), and goes around in a circle, getting cooked. They peel off the warm cookies, insert the fortune, and fold them into shape. It's hard to believe they're still doing this by hand. It was very hot that day, and the women sat there with long sleeves folding cookie after cookie. I felt sorry for them and wondered if they ever develop carpal tunnel syndrome.

Not surprisingly, you can buy bags of cookies (plain, or chocolate and plain mixed) for $4.75. They also sell "adult' versions which I was anxious to try, but not with the kids around. You can also buy almond cookies for $3.75, but I didn't think they were very good.

You can see a pile of cash sitting atop the cookie machine in the photo. The old man selling us the cookies just grabbed change from up there. Not very official. No cash register, no wallet, no documentation of money paid. No taxes? Hmmmm...
I told my mom about the factory and how it looked a little different than I remember. It turns out the factory we visited in my youth was in Oakland. Ah, now that explains it.

If you go:
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory has no website (what do you expect for a factory where three women hand-fold cookies?)
Where: 56 Ross Alley, San Francisco (between Jackson and Washington, Stockton and Grant)
Cost: free (but photos are 50 cents each)

Also fun in Chinatown: Vital Leaf Tea tastings - just around the corner. A beautiful shop where you can learn about different teas - for free!

And - my friend June says there's a fabulous vegan restaurant on Ross Alley, near the fortune cookie factory, if you're hungry. I don't have the address, but the alley is only one block long

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  1. I have never heard of this place. I just might have to stop by on our next SF trip though just to see the women in action!

  2. Hi! Any idea when they're open? I'd love to go but don't want to find parking, etc and then find out they're closed.

  3. Laurel - good question! My sources tell me that it's open between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. - though I didn't look for a sign with its hours when I was there.