A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from December 24, 2018
Crab Rangoon

“Crab Rangoon” is a crab dish from the 1950s named after Rangoon a city in the country of Burma; the city was renamed Yangon, and the country was renamed Myanmar. Despite the name, there is no evidence that Crab Rangoon originated in Rangoon.
“Rangoon crab” was printed in “The Chronicle’s East Bay Dining Directory” in the San Francisco (CA) Chronicle on May 7, 1951. The dish was served at Trader Vic’s, a Polynesian-themed restaurant. “Crab rangoon” was printed in the San Francisco (CA) Chronicle on March 6, 1956. It is likely that Trader Vic’s invented the dish because the cream cheese ingredient is very rarely used in Asian dishes. Crab Rangoon has also been called “crab puffs” and “cheese wontons.”
Wikipedia: Crab Rangoon
Crab Rangoon, sometimes called crab puffs, crab rangoon puffs, or cheese wontons, are filled crisp dumpling appetizers served in American Chinese and, more recently, Thai restaurants.
Crab Rangoon was on the menu of the “Polynesian-style” restaurant Trader Vic’s in San Francisco since at least 1956. Although the appetizer is allegedly derived from an authentic Burmese recipe, the dish was probably invented in the United States. A “Rangoon crab a la Jack” was mentioned as a dish at a Hawaiian-style party in 1952, but without further detail, and so may or may not be the same thing.
Though the history of Crab Rangoon is unclear, cream cheese, like other cheese, is essentially nonexistent in Southeast Asian and Chinese cuisine, so it is unlikely that the dish is actually of east or southeast Asian origin.
Wikipedia: Trader Vic’s
Trader Vic’s is a restaurant chain headquartered in Emeryville, California, United States. Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr. (December 10, 1902, San Francisco – October 11, 1984, Hillsborough, California) founded a chain of Polynesian-themed restaurants that bore his nickname, “Trader Vic.”
7 May 1951, San Francisco (CA) Chronicle., “The Chronicle’s East Bay Dining Directory,”  Gourmet Guide, pg. 48, col. 4:
TRADER VIC’S, 6500 San Pablo ave., Oakland (OLympic 3- 3400). (...) Highly recommended among the hors d’oeuvres: barbecued spareribs, fried prawns, Chinese egg roll, barbecue sticks, Rangoon crab, and chicken livers; ...
12 May 1952, San Francisco (CA) Chronicle, “The East Bay Dining-Out Directory,” Gourmet GUide, pg. 61, col. 4:
TRADER VIC’S, 6500 San Pablo ave., Oakland (OLympic 3- 3400) and 20 Cosmo Place, San Francisco (PRospect 6-2232).
Trader Vic Bergeron has built up a favorable reputation for his tropical huts and you’ll find quite a crowd beachcombing through the establishments working on tropical rum drinks and feasting on barbecued spareribs, Rangoon crab and chicken livers, pressed duck and all manners of succulent Chinese and Polynesian fare.
24 May 1952, Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette, “Hawaiian Party,” pg, 5, col. 3:
The former (hors d’oeuvres table—ed.) will be topped by a suckling pig overlooking a spread of egg roll, rangoon crab a la Jack, rumaki and other delicacies found either on American or far distant Pacific shores.
3 November 1953, Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM), “Good Food Has Been ‘Frisco Trademark Since Gold Rush” by Diane Foster (UP Staff Correspondent), pg. 3, col. 2:
IN THE HEAT of the city prime rib of beef is featured at the Clift Hotel’s Redwood Room, rum drinks and Rangoon crab in the Polynesian atmosphere of Trader Vic’s and Armenian delicacies at Omar Khayyam’s.
6 March 1956, San Francisco (CA) Chronicle, “Talk Around Town” by David Hulburd, pg. 36, col. 1:
While here he (M. Ramon Oliver—ed.) sat down to a simple little Polynesian dinner at Trader Vic’s, then managed to make his way to the airport. M. Oliver’s menu: first course of barbecued spare ribs, shrimp, egg roll, crab rangoon, po po, pake crab,
August 1956, Town & Country (New York, NY), “Ask the Man Who Knows” by Hector Escobosa, pg. 59, col. 1:
(Victor Bergeron, of Trader Vic’s restaurant.—ed.)
The traditional beginning for any meal at Trader Vic’s is barbecued spareribs, cooked to a king’s taste in a 550-degree f. Chinese oven. These may be taken with your before-dinner cocktail and can be varied with Cosmo Tidbits (fried shrimp, spareribs, crab Rangoon, sliced pork) or Malayan Tidbits (Rumaki, cheese balls, curry puffs).
16 January 1957, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Cronin’s Corner” by Ned Cronin, pt. 4, pg. 3, col. 1:
... the Crab Rangoon at Trader Vic’s in Oakland; ...
28 November 1957, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Hostesses Learn Trick of Being Unharried” by Norma H. Goodhue, Family sec., pt. 2, pg. 10, cols. 7-8:
1 lb. crab meat
1 lb. cream cheese
Dash of steak sauce
Dash of garlic powder
1 egg yolk
Won Ton Noodle Squares
METHOD: Chop crab and blend with cheese and steak sauce; add garlic powder, salt and pepper; blend thoroughly, Put 1/2 teaspoon in center of noodle square; fold square over, cornerwise. Moisten edges slightly and twist together. Fry in deep fat until delicately browned. Serve hot.
28 April 1958, New York (NY) Times,  “Food: New Restaurant; Trader Vic’s, at Savoy-Plaza, Offers Exotic CUisine in a Tropical Setting” by Craig Claiborne, pg. 18, cols. 7-8:
At the luncheon in question, a meal for two began with an assortment of appetizers, including fried shrimp, fried chicken livers and a specialty labeled Crab Rangoon. This is a crab meat deep-fried in a crisp, thin shell.
Houston (TX) Press
A Brief History of Crab Rangoon (Is Cream Cheese Native to Burma, or London?)
Cursory online research will tell you that a dish resembling present-day crab rangoon first appeared on the menu of legendary tiki bar and restaurant Trader Vic’s, though some sources hypothesize these stuffed crab puffs emerged around the turn of the century in British-controlled Burma.
I find both explanations unsatisfactory. With all due respect to Trader Vic’s, I am suspicious of the claim that they invented crab rangoon out of thin air. And while those intrepid Brits certainly had a habit of merging elements of their own cuisine with those of the countries they colonized, cream cheese also isn’t commonly found in traditional English cooking.
And I was thrilled to learn that come February, I can officially celebrate the crab rangoon on the 13th, which is, you guessed it, National Crab Rangoon Day.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • Monday, December 24, 2018 • Permalink

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