Asian dumplings can be enjoyed with many kinds of beverages, not just tea. Last week, my husband made a tropical cocktail to go with the deep-fried crab Rangoon wontons. It was a splendid way to finish the day, or start the night.
Trader Vic’s was, and still is, famous for its cocktails. Out of curiosity, I flipped to the back of the Trader Vic’s Pacific Island Cookbook to the “Drinks Recipes” chapter. Whoever owned the before me put the cocktail section to great use. It was the most stained part of the book.
There were recipes for San Francisco favorites, tropical drinks, and party punches. Names such as Silver Stallion, Tabu [sic], and Tiki Punch conjured up the restaurant’s ‘exotic’ tiki atmosphere. A perfect place for crab Rangoon to reign supreme. But what would one drink with crab Rangoon? There were many options but I settled on the Rangoon Ruby. The wonton and drink are in the same ersatz club, no? There was even a cheesy, period-appropriate photo too!
The original Rangoon Ruby recipe from Trader Vic’s Pacific Island Cookbook (1968):
In 10 ounce glass with cracked ice:
Juice of 1/2 lime – drop shell in glass
1 1/2 ounces cranberry juice
2 ounces vodka
Stir with ice. Add sparkling water. Garnish with mint and serve with a straw.
Mind you, cranberry is not a tropical fruit. Remember the Ocean Spray commercials with the Maine farmers? But Trader Vic’s was a 1960s-era establishment, and they saw that the ruby color of cranberry juice as a potentially pretty cocktail. It was a convenient way to create a tropical drink from locally available ingredients. A smart business decision.
Origin of Rangoon Ruby Cocktail
Some say that Trader Vic’s Rangoon Ruby was the original Cape Codder. But I’m also thinking that owner Vic Bergeron may have updated the classic Seabreeze of the 1920s. Originally, the Seabreeze used grenadine and gin. In the 1960s, cranberry juice became very popular in America. People began using cranberry juice for cocktails. Trader Vic’s may have jumped on the opportunity to tweak the Seabreeze. Ocean Spray printed Cape Codder cocktail recipes on their juice labels.
It’s hard to dial in the connection between the three cocktails. However, I do know this: the Rangoon Ruby cocktail goes really well with fried crab Rangoon wontons.
They are perennial classics and both remain on the Trader Vic’s menu today. The cocktail is in the “strong drinks” section of Trader Vic’s menu and described as: “No sissy drink. This vodka has a tang of fresh cranberries.”
I have to concur. The cheery looking and refreshing Rangoon Ruby masks the vodka all too well. I had to stop after the first one, or dinner would not have been made. Despite the non-tropical nature of cranberries, the flavor of the cocktail recalled slow afternoons and shady palm trees.
Below is my adaptation of the Trader Vic’s cocktail. Instead of cranberry juice, I’ve opted for bottled Italian cranberry soda because it has a brighter flavor. Whole Foods has an excellent one for about $2. Using the Italian soda means you don’t have to buy a separate bottle of soda. Plus, the fizzyness is already mixed in and properly balanced. A smooth vodka will also guarantee a fabulous drink!
Updated Rangoon Ruby Cocktail
Too easy to mix and enjoy.
Makes 1 cocktail
4 or 5 ice cubes
2 ounces vodka
Italian cranberry juice soda, Whole Foods brand preferred
1 Mint sprig
Put the ice in a 10 ounce glass. Squeeze the lime directly into the glass and drop the shell in there too. Add the vodka and top with the cranberry juice soda. Stir. Garnish with mint and serve.
Enjoy with the crab Rangoon for a great 1960s Tiki-bar experience. On the other hand, I think any deep-fried dumpling would go well with a Rangoon ruby, don’t you?