What the Heck Is Crab Rangoon Anyway?

Crab rangoon is a staple of American Chinese cuisine, found in restaurants all over the country. It is essentially cream cheese wrapped in a fried wonton, with a small amount of imitation crab and sometimes sugar. It is named after the city of Yangon in Myanmar, which used to be Rangoon in Burma. But cream cheese is not a common food in Myanmar, nor in China, and imitation crab comes from Japan. So how did this appetizer end up in American Chinese restaurants? You might be surprised to learn.

Crab rangoon has its roots in another quintessentially American cuisine. Starting in the 1940s, thanks to returning World War II veterans, the country began a decades-long obsession with the aquamarine hues and tropical vibes of Polynesia, or at least a vague idea of what Polynesia might be. It manifested as what we know as tiki culture.

The history of crab rangoon is entwined with the history of both tiki culture and American Chinese restaurants, and is an example of fusion food that is altogether American. You can read that story at Atlas Obscura.

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