Crab Rangoon Dip Is Turning Up Everywhere
This riff on a mid-century classic is a must-have on game day.
It’s every chef’s favorite turn of phrase when presenting a dish: “Here, we have our interpretation of an [insert familiar food item you remember eating as a kid] but deconstructed.” The culinary deja vu might beget some eyerolls on occasion, but hear us out. Crab rangoon dip is the perfect candidate for such rhetoric. Take those little pockets filled with Americanized Chinese flavor, and transform them into a shareable spread of crab-laced cream cheese and deep-fried wonton chips.
Crab rangoon has had a resurgence on social media and on restaurant menus across the country. At San Diego’s tiki-inspired The Islander, which opened in August, you can order a sweet and spicy variation as a pūpū. In Las Vegas, at the re-opened Tao Beach Dayclub, enjoy a poolside crab rangoon dip topped with caviar. Or, at the soon-to-open Lucky Buns at The Wharf in Southwest D.C., pair the dip with a late-night burger. You can even find it at supermarket chain Aldi, which started selling pre-made batches in 2020.
“We were trying to come up with some fun, kitchy ideas for Superbowl Sunday snacks, so I suggested we do the dip form,” says Natalie Freihon, owner of New York City’s Nat’s on Bank. “It was such a wild success and everybody loved it so much that we kept it on the menu.” The savory snack even made its way to happy hour at Nat’s on Bleecker, a recently opened sister restaurant.
The crab rangoon is a mid-century American classic. It was most-likely invented by Victor Bergeron, founder of the Trader Vic’s chain of tiki bars that popped up in the 1940s, after World War II veterans became obsessed with imagined visions of Polynesia. Though it was named after the largest city in Myanmar (now called Yangon), the crunchy treat has little to do with Asian culture. (One of its main components, cream cheese, was invented in New York.)
But it’s become a staple of American Chinese takeout, eventually finding its way into TikTok mukbangs. The hashtag #CrabRangoon has over 408 million views on the app. User Gabby Eniclerico, otherwise known as @slothgirl420, has contributed to the renaissance, stirring cravings each time she films herself dipping into the sweet chili sauce and taking an ASMR-friendly bite. The internet quickly became obsessed. Now we’re seeing zany spin-offs, like the crab rangoon pizza at Molly’s Rise and Shine in New Orleans.
“When I was younger, and we'd go out to Chinese American restaurants in LA with my family, I always loved the crab rangoon because it was such a fun thing for a kid to eat. It’s one of those nostalgic things that has so many memories related to it,” says Freihon. “I think that this has happened with a lot of things since COVID. People are going back to comforting things that make them feel good.”
The dip format is one of the many ways you can riff off of the crab rangoon at home. Not only is it easier to assemble, but it’s perfect for sharing when you’re having a few friends over. You want it to hit all the notes—creamy, savory, and umami—and can follow in the lead of Nat’s on Bank by tossing in some tamari. Adding a ton of salty flavors will prevent the cream cheese from becoming too overpowering. “It’s not a cream cheese dip per se,” Freihon says, so you still want it to taste a bit like the sea.
While the restaurant makes use of sweet, fresh crab, Freihon says you can also go in the direction of imitation. “It’s pretty sturdy in terms of its texture, so you’d still be able to have nice chunky pieces of crab meat in there,” she says. “I don’t think it's going to hurt the dish in any way.”
Consistency is also very important. “You don’t want it to be too liquidy, because then it kind of tastes a little creepy,” Freihon jokes. “So it has to be able to stand up to a nice sturdy chip that you’re serving it with, and wonton crisps are perfect.” Simply cut up some wonton wrappers into strips and deep fry them. But if you can’t get your hands on them, Freihon suggests opting for soy rice crackers or tortilla chips.
For something a bit more warm and cozy, you can even toss shredded cheese on top and pop it in the broiler. The crab rangoon dip defies all rules—for one, the Italian doctrine that cheese and seafood should never be mixed—so don’t be afraid to indulge and have a bowl all to yourself.
Nat’s on Bank Crab Rangoon Dip
- 3 ½ cups cream cheese
- 6.4 ounces of jumbo lump crab meat
- Scant ½ ounce Worcester sauce
- 2 ¼ tablespoons fish sauce
- ¾ teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- ½ tablespoon tamari
- 1 ½ tablespoon pickled chilis
- ⅓ cup pepper jack cheese
- ⅓ cup brunoise carrots
- 2 ½ cups scallions
1. Leave cream cheese at room temperature until soft.
2. Pulse pickled chilis in a food processor. Slice scallions, both green and white parts, into ½-inch pieces.
3. Peel carrots and cut bruniose style (julienne, then dice into tiny cubes).
4. Combine all ingredients in the food processor.