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Why is everyone on TikTok eating crab Rangoon?

Crab Rangoon is a deep-fried wonton stuffed with cream cheese and crab invented in the 1940s — and Gen Z'ers are literally singing its praises.
Crab RangoOoOoOoOons!
Crab RangoOoOoOoOons!slothgirl420/ foodwithsoy/ TikTok

Over 16 million people have watched Gabby Eniclerico eat crab Rangoon.

Maybe it’s the way she sings "crab RangoOoOoOoOons!" as she dips the fried wonton into the sweet chili sauce and closes her eyes in anticipatory pleasure before taking a gigantic first bite. “Mmm!” she yelps as she shows us the molten cream cheese filling on the inside, shaking her head at how good it is, while making some extremely crunchy crunching sounds. Eniclerico, better known as @slothgirl420 on TikTok, really loves crab Rangoon, and within the span of 15 seconds, she is almost guaranteed to have you craving it, too.

Eniclerico, who is a legal assistant at a law firm when she's not mukbanging, tried crab Rangoon for the first time in 2015 on a trip to Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown as a college student. "I was like, 'This is the best thing I’ve ever had in the world,'" she recalled with trademark enthusiasm. "After that, I ate so many crab Rangoons in 2015, I overloaded myself and couldn’t eat them for years." Eniclerico’s crab Rangoon break ended in 2020, the first time she ate them on TikTok, and the first time she sang that now-famous jingle. "I feel like singing just makes me more excited. It’s like when people dance in their seat when they eat."

Given her history with the dish, Eniclerico was somewhat surprised at the video that went viral in December of 2021, starting an entire crab Rangoon movement on TikTok. "I think that people are so intrigued by this because they’re so crunchy. They look so appetizing. Whenever I eat them, I always try to get good crunch noises in there; people like that ASMR aspect of the video. But it was kind of random the way it just blew up."

Her "all-time favorite place to get crab Rangoons," she says in one video, is Full Kee in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown, "because look at how filled they are, man."

What is crab Rangoon?

If you’ve been enjoying crab Rangoon for years without ever knowing how it became a staple on American Chinese restaurant menus, you’re not alone. It’s "a 1940s crab-and-cream-cheese dip stuffed into a wonton and deep-fried—a pure distillation of tiki fusion weirdness," according to a deep-dive on the dish’s origins in Atlas Obscura. Basically, World War II veterans returning home in the 1940’s sparked an obsession "with the aquamarine hues and tropical vibes of Polynesia, or at least a vague idea of what Polynesia might be," leading to what we now associate with tiki culture. The dish was probably invented by Victor Bergeron, the "Vic" of the Trader Vic’s tiki bar chain. To this day, there are design nods to tiki culture at Trader Joe’s, which was inspired by Trader Vic's.

Seeing business potential in the new craze for all things South Pacific, Bergeron opened the saloon in Oakland, California, that would eventually become the first Trader Vic’s. Experimenting with different wonton fillings, he tried out cream cheese, a beloved mainstay in American cuisine of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Imitation crab, on the other hand, hadn’t been invented yet — Trader Vic’s used (and still uses) real crab. It was a hit.

Rangoon (now Yangon) was a place Americans had heard of, the largest city in Burma (now Myanmar, which shares a border with China). Rangoon had no ties to the dish taking over restaurant menus in California other than being "a place in a general Southeast Asia-Polynesia-South Pacific zone, suitably exotic-sounding but still easy for native English speakers to pronounce."

Around the same time, the concept of American Chinese food was emerging, "thanks to a loophole in the racist laws aimed to keep Chinese immigrants out of, or at least marginalized in, the United States." Chinese immigrants were at the mercy of exclusionary practices around what kinds of merchant visas they could get, but restaurant owners qualified. So the number of Chinese restaurants soared, as it was one way they could own a business.

With tiki culture and American Chinese cuisine both gaining popularity, Americans lumped it all into a "vaguely Asian" category. Crab Rangoon might have been sweeter, more deep fried and more cream-cheese filled than anything you’d find in Polynesia, China or Myanmar. But it was a hit in the U.S., and over half a century later, Gen Z'ers would be literally singing its praises on TikTok.

How to make crab Rangoon

Soy Nguyen, an LA-based food host and influencer, had just arrived home for the holidays around the time when Eniclerico's video was blowing up. Crab Rangoon is a favorite dish for Nguyen’s family, who is Vietnamese, and Nguyen’s mom was already planning to make them. "When you have six kids, it’s hard to go out and buy enough of a dish for everyone — it’ll get expensive quickly. So for us it’s like, 'Okay, we can make it at home,'" Nguyen told TODAY. "Gabby’s crab Rangoon song went super viral, so I was like, 'This is great, my mom’s already planning on making it and everyone’s singing 'crab Rangoon' all over TikTok!'"

Nguyen’s followers adore seeing her mom on her TikTok, @foodwithsoy. "She’s the kindest woman ever," Nguyen said. "She’s a single mom and a breast cancer survivor, so to me the more I can highlight a strong Vietnamese woman, an immigrant that had a very tough past who’s now happily living with her children and full of hope, well, I love to share her story."

Nguyen posted a video of their at-home crab Rangoon, and her followers immediately demanded a recipe tutorial. So they filmed a follow-up. "I know that when we cook Asian food, a lot of times people think it looks complicated. So for my mom’s recipes, we might modify an ingredient instead of buying something you can only use for that one recipe."

Nguyen noticed that many other recipes for crab Rangoon have a longer list of ingredients than theirs and wasn’t sure if her family’s simple take would be a pro or con. "I’ve had it at Chinese restaurants before and it’s usually on the sweeter side, but after my mom went through chemotherapy, she has to watch her sugar levels, so we don’t add sugar. And a lot of other recipes for crab Rangoon have green onions or Worcestershire sauce. But we don’t use Worcestershire sauce at home, so there’s no purpose for us having that ingredient. So this recipe is her tweaking."

"I saw people adding all that other stuff and worried they weren’t going to love ours. But at the same time, I think some people pause when they see so many ingredients. Maybe it’s a cost issue or they don’t want to buy more things. So I was happy to see commenters saying, 'Oh, thank goodness it’s simple enough I can make it at home and I don’t need that many ingredients."

That video is now one of Nguyen’s most viral ever, with 11.4 million views and counting. "No matter what, there’s always variation in recipes, so it’s interesting what becomes popular. Like, how did this take off? But people have been messaging me pictures of it, recreating it and tagging me, and everyone’s giving it 10 out of 10. It’s such a personal recipe because it’s exactly the way we eat it at home, so it feels really great that people are loving it," Nguyen said.

Eniclerico did attempt to make her own crab Rangoon, but it ended up "kind of an epic fail," she said. "They were, like, exploding in the oil." So for anyone wanting to make their own, she advised following Nguyen's directions over hers. "I would eat her recipe. Not mine."

Get the recipe:

Crab Rangoon

Crab Rangoon

Soy Nguyen