Post-war 1950's America - the middle class flourished and island pop culture was king. Americans flocked to Polynesian-themed restaurants and lounges across the country. Leading the South Sea movement was Victor Bergeron, a one-legged bartender and former waiter at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel.
Bergeron, applying his skills concocting potent rum cocktails, along with a driven yet affable objective to dispense the spirit of the islands to all of America, had founded the Trader Vic's chain in 1936, originating with his flagship Oakland site. By the 50's, he was operating 25 locations worldwide.
His formula was foolproof - Serve strong tropical drinks amidst an exotic island decor, and adapt Polynesian dishes and make them irresistible to fun-loving Americans. He offered the whole experience during an era when Rodgers and Hammerstein had recently released the popular musical South Pacific, based on Michener's equally celebrated book, Tales of the South Pacific.
Beloved bay-area journalist Herb Caen once commented about Trader Vic’s: “The best restaurant in San Francisco is in Oakland.”
At the heart of his menu was the Pupu platter, featuring Crab Rangoon - a fried wonton filled with cream cheese and crab and purportedly derived from an authentic Burmese recipe, however it's more likely a western creation...cheese is not commonly used in the far east, and many Asians are lactose intolerant. Regard it as an enduring, time-tested example of the original Asian-Fusion cooking in California.
Crab Rangoon remains on the menu today.
From Trader Vic's Pacific Island Cookbook:
1/2 lb fresh crabmeat, drained and chopped
1/2 lb cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 tsp A-1 sauce
1/4 tsp garlic powder
2 1/2 - 3 dozen won ton wrappers
1 egg yolk, well beaten
Oil for deep frying
Chinese Mustard/Plum Sauce or Sweet and Sour Sauce for Dipping
Combine crabmeat with cream cheese, A-1, and
garlic powder in medium bowl and blend to a paste. Place heaping tsp on each won ton skin. Bring two corners of won ton together to form a triangle. Moisten edges with egg yolk and pinch together to gently seal. Heat oil in wok, deep frying pan, or deep fryer to 375º Add won tons in batches and fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve hot with dipping sauce.
Accompany with suitable cocktails...
Victor Bergeron and fellow Tiki pioneer/founder of Don the Beachcomber Ernest Gantt both claim to have invented the Mai Tai.
Bergeron's Original Trader Vic's Mai Tai Recipe of 1944
2 oz of 17-year old J. Wray & Nephew Rum over shaved ice
Juice from one fresh lime
1/2 oz Holland DeKuyper Orange Curaçao
1/4 oz Rock Candy Syrup
1/2 oz French Garnier Orgeat Syrup
Add a sprig of fresh mint.
Only three Trader Vic's remain open in California today - Beverly Hills, Downtown Los Angeles and Oakland (Emeryville).