By Anna Mindess | Photo by Alicia Wong
Lunar New Year begins on January 22, but preparations are already underway at the 65-year-old Oakland Fortune Factory, one of the last bakeries that still makes these crisp cookies one at a time, using a traditional recipe that’s vegan and preservative-free.
The mother-daughter team of Jiamin and Alicia Wong took over the bakery in 2015. Jiamin supervises the bakery workers who form each cookie by hand and insert the fortunes. Alicia and husband Alex focus on custom orders, creating elegant treats for weddings, birthdays, and other celebrations by dipping the crunchy cookies into Belgian dark and Swiss white chocolate and topping them with crystals, sugar stars, and caviar pearls in a fantasy rainbow of colors. They’ve made versions for Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and other special days.
The Lunar New Year holiday is important to Alicia Wong. “It’s the only holiday I feel is inclusive,” she says. “While my family did try to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, this is the time when the rest of the world observes our holiday.”
Alicia’s father was born in a Rabbit year. “He met my mom when they were teenagers in Guangzhou, China. After she went off to college in Japan, he went to college in New Zealand,” she says. “When he returned to China, he found that Jiamin had moved to the United States with her family. He pursued her there, and they got married in the U.S. My mom, born in a Tiger year, is a confident, headstrong woman, whereas my dad is a gentle, soft-spoken person, so the family joke is that my dad is a ‘Rabbit chasing after a Tiger.’”
The Rabbit also connects to a candy that sparked Alicia’s cultural reawakening. It began in 2021 with the Stop Asian Hate movement during the Covid pandemic.
“I realized I had been trying to strip away the ‘Chinese’ characterization of our cookies because it seemed that many people equated ‘Chinese’ with cheapness, while ‘Western’ was admired as good quality. But when I saw Chinese American millennials celebrating their heritage, I finally felt good about being Chinese American,” says Alicia.
Once inspired to celebrate her own cultural identity, Alicia wondered how she could express that with her cookies and immediately thought of starting with her favorite childhood flavors. Her first recreation was the flavor of White Rabbit candy, the soft, chewy, milk-based treat that is China’s most popular sweet. She followed with collections featuring the flavors of lychee tea, candied ginger, jasmine tea, black sesame, salted egg yolk, and hot pot with Sichuan pepper.
The family team also creates custom cookies for marriage proposals, gender reveal parties, Chinese 100-day baby celebrations, and even to immortalize the sayings of the dearly departed at funerals. They’ve made custom fortunes in Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Tagalog, Korean, Farsi, and Braille.
Lunar New Year cookies, their most popular item, must be pre-ordered online starting in November for pick up or mailing in January. ´
Oakland Fortune Factory
261 12th Street in Oakland Chinatown
Anna Mindess writes on food, culture, and travel for numerous publications. She also works as an American Sign Language interpreter. Follow her on Instagram @annamindess and find her stories at annamindess.contently.com.