The Puzzling Origins of Crab Rangoon

Many Chinese dishes loved by Americans didn’t originate in China. Fortune cookies are a Japanese creation, and General Tso’s chicken was invented in Taiwan. One of the most perplexing Chinese-American restaurant staples is crab rangoon. This fried dumpling, which is stuffed with a sweet and creamy seafood filling, scarcely resembles anything from Hunan, Szechuan, Cantonese, or other Chinese cuisines. Even if they order it with their takeout, many customers have no idea what crab rangoon is or where it comes from. Before it appeared on Chinese restaurant menus, crab rangoon was conceived for Trader Vic’s in the 1940s. Victor Bergeron, owner of the tiki bar chain, was playing with wonton wrappers in the kitchen one day when he thought to stuff them with crab meat and cream cheese and deep fry them. Though the wonton wrappers were Chinese, any similarity to culture’s cuisine stopped there. To confuse the dish’s identity even further, Bergeron named it crab rangoon after the former name of the city of Rangoon (today known as Yangon) in Myanmar. Despite its odd mash-up of cultures, Trader Vic’s crab crab rangoon was a success. It wasn’t long before independent Chinese-American restaurants began making their own versions, and even as Trader Vic's became less popular throughout the 20th century, the appetizer lived on.