The Reviews of East Wind and How one Vietnamese Restaurant Spread

Until the opening of Ambrosia Café in 1989, East Wind and Nam’s River were the only two Vietnamese restaurants in Alexandria, Virginia.[1] East Wind was a staple in Alexandria; the restaurant offered food that was familiar to Vietnamese refugees in the area and as an exotic but delectable choice for the non-Vietnamese. The reviews of East Wind in the Washington Post in the early 1980s offer insight into how the restaurant was seen by the non-Vietnamese diners. It is unclear when exactly East Wind opened at 809 King Street, but since the first Vietnamese restaurant in the area opened in 1973 it is not hard to imagine that East Wind opened sometime between 1973 and 1980.[2]

The language in the reviews reveals how Vietnamese refugees were viewed in the Alexandria area. The reviews of East Wind were not written by a Vietnamese culinary expert, but instead by local white food critic. Vietnamese people and food were considered exotic to the residents of Alexandria. The reviews for East Wind and other Vietnamese restaurants were written by people who had never experienced this type of food and therefore did not know how it was supposed to taste. Comments such as “[s]hrimp on sugar cane is well executed, but to us intrinsically bland and untextured” must be recognized as written by someone unfamiliar with how shrimp on sugar cane is to be cooked and such comments are meant for a certain audience.[3] As the Washington Post was not read by most Vietnamese refugees because of the language; instead, white and African American residents of the region were the mainstay of its readership in the early 1980s. It stands to argue that Vietnamese who went to East Wind went because they had heard about the restaurant through the Vietnamese American community, and were going for the familiar food. Native-born Americans, however, were relying on the reviews to give them a description of the food that they were unfamiliar with and how someone else–who was like them– experienced the dishes.

The authors of these reviews may be unfamiliar with Vietnamese cuisine, but so were their audiences. Those reading the Washington Post Magazine were not the thousands fleeing Vietnam who settled in the DC metro area. Instead, they were the newspaper’s readership who were looking for “special evenings out” at a restaurant they saw as new and exciting because it was “ethnic.”[4] The description of dishes did not include their Vietnamese names (with few exceptions), but instead as “Vietnamese soups [that] show the contrast of sweet and tart with a fiery kick, soft noodles and crisp shreds of nearly raw vegetables, long-simmered broths with the last-minute addition of raw beef or fish.”[5] The author could have simply said Pho instead of giving a long description of the soup’s ingredients, but this long description gave the non-Vietnamese audience an idea what they were eating at East Wind.

Comments about the appearance and price of East Wind were a part of a larger discussion of the view of Vietnamese by native-born residents in Alexandria. Describing the Vietnamese dishes served at East Wind as demonstrating the “subtle intricacy that captures the best of its French and Chinese inheritance” dismissed their Vietnamese heritage and instead highlighted the region’s connections to France and China, which readers would be more knowledgeable about. However, the reviewers did not largely pursue this pro-French attitude, and they advertised that East Wind was the place to go “to understand the mystique of Vietnamese cooking.”[6] The praise of the Vietnamese dishes recognized them as new and different to the Alexandria area and brought in more customers to the restaurant thus growing the business as Vietnamese food was no longer seen as odd or “unexpected.”[7]

East Wind’s early praise in the 1980s clearly continued into the 1990s and the 2000s. East Wind expanded their reach with the opening of the Bethesda, Maryland restaurant, Windows of the East in 1989. As Phyllis Richman said “[East Wind] keeps multiplying and dividing.”[8] The success of the Alexandria East Wind enabled the owner to open a second branch, bringing Vietnamese dishes to a new environment. East Wind also helped other Vietnamese in the area learn the restaurant business. Two managers of the East Wind, brothers Tin and Chi Quang, took what they learned at the business and opened their own restaurant, Saigonnais, in Adams-Morgan. The multiple locations and expansion of Vietnamese restaurants in the DC area prove how the differentness of Vietnamese cuisine may not have been initially accepted, but it soon became some of the most popular dining places around. The region’s cuisine was becoming “more international than American.”[9]

East Wind would end up being owned by Vietnamese refugee Dong Dong who fled Vietnam in 1979 and started at the Alexandria East Wind as a busboy.[10] Dong moved the business to Fairfax City where he hoped to “replicate his success” with this new location.[11] The Alexandria East Wind is no longer open, but Dong’s restaurant in Fairfax is thriving today. The new Eastwind still offers “authentic Vietnamese cuisine at affordable prices.”[12] Eastwind now hosts parties, receptions, and other events to the people of Fairfax with most business coming by word of mouth, but with the same delicious dishes as the East Wind of Alexandria had, such as spicy lemongrass beef, crispy spring roll with vermicelli, and pho.[13] The 809 King Street location in Alexandria reopened in 2003 as another restaurant, King Street’s Asian Bistro, offering Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian, and Vietnamese inspired dishes.[14]

[1] Joan Horwitt, “Virginia Dining: Ambrosia Café,” The Washington Post, May 18, 1989.

[2] Phyllis C. Richman, “DINING: Nam’s River: A Glorious Confluence of Cultures,” The Washington Post, April 24, 1988, 1.

[3] “East Wind,” The Washington Post Magazine, September 26, 1982.

[4] “East Wind,” The Washington Post Magazine, April 19, 1981.

[5] Phyllis C. Richman, “East Wind,” The Washington Post Magazine, September 27, 1981.

[6] “East Wind,” April 19, 1981.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Phyllis C. Richman, “Alexandria’s Eastern Clones,” The Washington Post, May 26, 1989.

[9] Phyllis C. Richman, “Waiters Were the Fly in Our Coup” The Washington Post, January 1, 1988.

[10] Whitney Rhodes, “Eastwind Owner Works Hard to Bring Vietnamese Cuisine Downtown,” Fairfax City Patch, February 25, 2013, http://patch.com/virginia/fairfaxcity/eastwind-owner-works-hard-to-bring-vietnamese-cuisine-downtown, Accessed October 29, 2015.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Domenica Marchetti, “King Street’s Asian Bistro Offers the Best of Eastern Flavors,” The Washington Post, September 4, 2003.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*