What the Heck Is Crab Rangoon Anyway?
August 23, 2019 11:00 AM   Subscribe

 
Ha! I was just in the process of posting this. What a well done article.

Previously Jennifer 8 Lee and The Search for General Tso.
posted by Bee'sWing at 11:10 AM on August 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


Crab rangoons were my favorite at the American-Chinese buffet that I went to a kid, but I never realized that there's actually meant to be crab (or imitation crab) in it! I always thought the name referred to the shape, like maybe the four-pointed star is the "claw" of the crab?

Serious Eats has a recipe if you want to make your own at home!

Also, from the article:
The history of crab rangoon leads back to tiki culture. The dish was probably invented by Victor Bergeron, best known as the namesake founder of the Trader Vic’s chain of tiki bars. (Trader Vic’s, in turn, inspired the Trader Joe’s grocery chain—you can still see some of that weird colonialist imagination in its design motifs.)

...Ah, so the Trader <>'s pattern has an offensive history in addition to being kinda racist today (like the whole Trader Ming's, Trader Giotto's, Trader Jose's branding on "ethnic" food). The more you know... :\
posted by devrim at 11:11 AM on August 23, 2019


I am sad that I've never seen Famous Chinese Food Dancing.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:17 AM on August 23, 2019


“Knowing my grandfather, he probably just started to play with it,” she says. “Just put stuff in here, fry it up, and see what we get.”

I can confirm, this is a recipe for a good time.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:29 AM on August 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


Also important: In minnesota they take them very seriously, they just take the crab out first.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:30 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


I think I'd rather eat a spider before a cream cheese wonton.
posted by Keith Talent at 11:35 AM on August 23, 2019


But the inspiration had to come from somewhere. American Chinese chefs are still experimenting with dishes to suit their own hyperlocal customer bases. Yaka mein, in New Orleans, combines Cajun seasoning with a beef noodle soup. Cashew chicken, from Springfield, Missouri, pairs fried chicken with cashews.

How is cashew chicken "hyperlocal?" I've eaten it in Tampa and Atlanta and Chicago and Shreveport as well as St. Louis.
posted by Foosnark at 11:38 AM on August 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


The whole thing is fascinating (though I hate crab rangoon), and this is spot on: "ONE THING TO GET OUT of the way is that crab rangoon is not inauthentic, and you should not be embarrassed to order it. American Chinese food is its own cuisine, with its own staples and a reasonably long and fascinating history. There’s a fundamental problem with the concept of authenticity in food, because cuisine is constantly mutating and adapting to new ingredients, new people, new techniques, and new ideas. Mexican food would be completely different without the influence of the Spanish and Arab immigrants and colonists; the tomato is not native to Italy; the chili pepper is not native to Thailand. There are old dishes and there are newer dishes, and that can be an interesting distinction. And there is tasty food and lousy food, but using some concept of authenticity alone as a criteria is a flawed approach."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:38 AM on August 23, 2019 [32 favorites]


One thing to get out of the way is that crab rangoon is not inauthentic, and you should not be embarrassed to order it. American Chinese food is its own cuisine, with its own staples and a reasonably long and fascinating history.  There’s a fundamental problem with the concept of authenticity in food…

Oh my yes.  People complaining about about authenticity when it comes to food always make me want to ask them, "Have you even heard of the Columbian Exchange?" What's the cutoff date for authentic?  Why?  Nearly everything interesting* we eat comes from the New World, so what is authentic anyway?  All food is localized.  That's American cuisine's superpower, not its weakness.  It's what makes it interesting, this fusion of immigrant cultures influencing each other's cuisines.

*Seriously, the list is crazy:   barley, corn, wild rice, avocado, cranberry, peppers, pineapple, tomatoes, squashes, lima beans, peanuts, pecans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cocoa, maple syrup, vanilla—the list goes on and on, and those are just the star items.  WTF is authentic when all your cuisines lean so heavily on foods only historically recently present?
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 11:39 AM on August 23, 2019 [18 favorites]


The ones we get from the Chinese takeout down the street have no discernible crab (imitation or otherwise) in them.
posted by briank at 11:40 AM on August 23, 2019


Actually, recent attempts to decipher Shang dynasty oracle bone script have mostly yielded recipes for crab rangoon
posted by knoyers at 11:41 AM on August 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


A couple of years ago on YouTube I posted a handy guide to eating crab rangoon. I hope you find it helpful.
posted by bondcliff at 11:41 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I think I'd rather eat a spider before a cream cheese wonton.

Never cared for lobster myself.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 11:42 AM on August 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


How is cashew chicken "hyperlocal?" I've eaten it in Tampa and Atlanta and Chicago and Shreveport as well as St. Louis.

Springfield, MO is apparently credited with its own specific style of cashew chicken.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:44 AM on August 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


How is cashew chicken "hyperlocal?"
Lots of American Chinese restaurants serve some kind of chicken stir-fried with cashews, but Springfield cashew chicken is a specific thing.
posted by neroli at 11:44 AM on August 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


it would be flawless but for the occasional presence of hideous crab
posted by poffin boffin at 11:51 AM on August 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


I used to be as big as an nerd about this as I could be, but I've given up on the "authenticity" crap with food, especially in the US.

I mean, putting aside exploitative appropriation, food authenticity is kind of like racism in that it segregates. If everyone religiously adhered to authenticity, we wouldn't have Korean tacos. We wouldn't even have tacos, or burritos. We wouldn't have phad thai. Food authenticity is kind of like getting upset that someone married someone from a different race or culture even though they obviously love each other.

It's like saying that Indian food or Tandoori needs to stay firmly divided and far away from, say, pizza, that they should never mingle and have a relationship because their children wouldn't be... authentic.

And anyone that's had Indian pizza will fight you about this because it's really good.

Food authenticity doesn't actually exist. Of all of the arts and languages of human culture, food is the greatest melting pot of all.

Considering I've always been a descriptivist and not a prescriptivist I don't know why it took me so long to figure this out.
posted by loquacious at 12:02 PM on August 23, 2019 [26 favorites]


What the Heck Is Crab Rangoon Anyway?

Preposterous.
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:21 PM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm a so-called foodie who unashamedly loves Crab Rangoon.
posted by desuetude at 12:56 PM on August 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


Crab Rangoon is a good name for the hero of an 80s action b-movie, possibly played by Kurt Russell or someone like Kurt Russell but cheaper.
posted by Grangousier at 1:08 PM on August 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


Crab Rangoon rules. This article rules. Intermixing cuisines rules.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:31 PM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


Wait, people put crab in Crab Rangoon? Well, I never!
posted by wenestvedt at 1:44 PM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Exceptional_Hubris: "Springfield, MO is apparently credited with its own specific style of cashew chicken."

As is Detroit with it's own almond boneless chicken. My wife is forever lamenting how none of the local places make it like back home.
posted by charred husk at 1:58 PM on August 23, 2019


Crab Rangoon has pretty much been the same in shape and taste wherever I've gone with one exception. There's this Chinese buffet in town that, instead of having the Rangoon wide with four points, makes them like little bombs that are twisted on the end. And they're more savory than sweet. And they're addictive as hell, like little poppers. If we ever did "fill your own container" takeout for game night we'd fill one container with nothing but their Rangoon.
posted by charred husk at 2:03 PM on August 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


What's the cutoff date for authentic? Why?

Whatever best lets you sneer at the person you're judging, of course.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:17 PM on August 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


Count me another foodie who kind of loves them. On occasion. Of course, growing up, the most bargain-basement Chinese-American food was about the only Asian food available to me. In that context, crab rangoon was almost fancy.
posted by praemunire at 5:09 PM on August 23, 2019


"Anuthentic" is silly as an actual standard, but efforts at authenticity are one of the things that go into creating current cuisine.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 5:13 PM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


There's a place near me (Kala Noodle & Grill, SE Belmont, Portland) that mixes in yellow curry in with the cream cheese in their rangoons. Delicious. It's a step up from the base rangoon, and makes me realize more variations need to happen. Where are the jalapeno, habanero, wasabi, curry, peanut sauce, or buffalo blue cheese crab rangoons?
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:30 PM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Where are the jalapeno, habanero, wasabi, curry, peanut sauce, or buffalo blue cheese crab rangoons?

Added wonton wrappers, wasabi, and Thai curry paste to the shopping list. I know what I'm doing this weekend.
posted by she's not there at 11:19 PM on August 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


I love crab rangoons too. Sometimes when I am feeling very low, I go to Panda Express and just get a side order of the rangoons to eat while contemplating the beauty of fried wonton around cheese. I mean, I like mozzarella sticks too, but the half-life of good mozzarella stick is so brief. Once that cheese cools down than you might as well dip some string cheese straight out of the fridge into panko crumbs (wait that sounds not bad). Crab rangoons are better hot, but they are perfectly fine at room temperature.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:20 PM on August 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


> What's the cutoff date for authentic?

Authenticity is not about date, it's about claimed origin.
posted by lucidium at 5:07 PM on August 24, 2019


Well, at least now I know what Crab Rangoon is. I would have avoided it on general fishy basis. Sounds like mozzarella sticks or four cheese ravioli. Throw some random condiments about and I'm in.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:48 AM on August 25, 2019


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