The Tsue Chong Noodle and Fortune Cookie Factory has been operating from a quiet corner of Seattle's International District since 1917. Founded by Gar Hip Louie over 100 years ago, the small storefront on South Jackson Street hides an incredibly interesting bustle of noodle and fortune cookie making on its top floor.
The Tsue Chong website says, "At the time there were several Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood but no local noodle supplier. Noodles, along with rice, are some of the primary dietary items for the Chinese, so Gar Hip saw a business opportunity and started a noodle factory using the finest ingredients." Today, the noodles are still made fresh –thousands of pounds per day!– and no artificial ingredients or preservatives are used.
We were excited to score a spot on a group tour with the PNW Secular Homeschoolers, and met at 10am on a cloudy fall morning. We started at the top floor of the building where the production process takes place. Today Tsue Chong makes a whopping seventeen different lines of noodle products from four basic ingredients of flour, salt, water, and eggs. (Plus rice noodles made from crushed rice and water). Everything from wide to skinny noodles, and wrappers for wontons and eggrolls.
One of the most interesting moments was watching the ladies take huge piles of dried noodles and run them through a slicer to make the perfectly-sized noodle we're accustomed to seeing at the grocery store or restaurants.
In the 1950s, fortune cookies took off in popularity, but they did NOT come from China. Instead. this fun dessert food originated in San Francisco– purely an American-made tradition. The Louie family bought some fortune cookie machines and used an original recipe of pastry flour, sugar, vanilla flavoring, eggs, water, and coconut oil, mixed into a pancake batter consistency.
We were told the cookies were originally made, formed, and stuffed with fortunes by hand– about a dozen cookies per minute per machine. Today Tsue Chong uses modern high-speed machines to produce about 120 cookies per minute, or a mind-boggling 80,000 fortune cookies every single day! Every now and then, a cookie doesn't quite turn out, but nothing is wasted. Those reject cookies are bagged up and sold as "Unfortunates." Ha!
Today, if you're dining out at an Asian restaurant or picking up a bag of cookies from Uwajimaya, check for a rose on the left edge of your fortune. If you see one, Tsue Chong made it! (If you see a bee, it's their main competitor).
All in all, this field trip was really fun! If you happen to have a small school group, give them a call and see the factory for yourself! And if you don't have a school group, drum up the neighborhood kids and try anyway, ;)