Fortune-teller's cookies soothed the little beasts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 March, 2012, 12:00am


These powdery, sweet biscuits, sometimes with a meat filling, are said to be native to Foshan in Guangdong province.

During the reign of Yongyan, the Jiaqing Emperor (1796-1820) in the Qing dynasty, there was a blind fortune-teller who set up a stall outside a temple. (It was commonly believed that the visually impaired made good fortune-tellers as their inability to see the real world gave them 'sight' into the heavens.) He and his wife noticed that women with young children were frequenting the temple, but wouldn't stay and have their fortunes told because their children were either pestering them to leave or were too noisy for them to talk to the fortune-teller.

One evening, the fortune-teller and his wife were finishing dinner, and his wife noticed that they had leftover rice sticking to the bottom of the pot. She sighed and complained to her husband that because business at the stall wasn't going well, they couldn't afford to waste the rice and she would keep the scrapings for lunch the next day.

This inspired the fortune-teller to do something better with the leftover rice. He asked his wife to remove it from the pot, and let it dry in the sun for the next few days. After that, he ground the dried rice into powder, adding ground peanuts, sugar and lard. The mixture was compressed into small biscuits and baked. The couple took these biscuits to work, offering them to children whose mothers were interested in having their fortunes told. The youngsters would sit quietly, nibbling at their snack, allowing the fortune-teller to do his work.

Business improved greatly, and the story goes that the little cakes were so popular that people would come from afar just to savour them. Eventually, they began selling the cakes instead of giving them away. The couple never gave the biscuits a name, but eventually they became known as blind man's biscuits.

It is said that later, the fortune-teller's son added a meat filling to the cake for those who preferred snacks to be salty and sweet, and set up a dedicated bakery, turning his father's marketing tactic into his main business.