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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Falls Church Eden Center Offers Comforting Vietnamese Cuisine

A sandwich from Banh Mi D.C. Sandwich which features a variety of meats, pickled vegetables all on a fresh baguette; it is truly a delicious sandwich. (Rose Boehm/International Dateline)
A sandwich from Banh Mi D.C. Sandwich which features a variety of meats, pickled vegetables all on a fresh baguette; it is truly a delicious sandwich. (Rose Boehm/International Dateline)

The Vietnamese Eden Center is just a short 20 minute drive out of D.C. into Fairfax County. Eden Center is a hub of hospitality and vibrant food. And it’s a place that brings Vietnamese people around the DMV together. 

According to the United States 2010 Census, the DMV has the fifth largest Vietnamese population of any metropolitan area. In the roots of the DMV there is a deep history that manifested itself into what is now called Eden Center. 

Before Eden Center was established, an area of Arlington near the Clarendon Metro station named Little Saigon was what Eden Center is now. However, according to Kim O’Connell, a historic preservationist and half-Vietnamese American who grew up in suburban Maryland, the expansion of the Metro’s orange line to Arlington caused rents to skyrocket, pushing out many Vietnamese immigrants outside of this Arlington area. In response to this, Vietnamese Americans created Eden Center. 

“As soon as the stores started moving to Eden center, we started going to Eden center. We still shop at the Eden Center; it’s still a major part of my life,” O’Connell said. 

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Vietnamese American owner and chef at Sprig and Sprout in Glover Park, Jennifer Hoang, explained a similar experience of going to Eden Center. “It was huge. Growing up, we actually lived in Maryland, and every Sunday morning, we would drive 30 or 45 minutes to go to Eden Center, because that was really the biggest grouping of our culture at that time,” Hoang said. 

Both O’Connell and Hoang strongly identify as American. O’Connell explained that her Vietnamese mother worked hard to acclimate into the United States because of the American melting pot attitude.

“America welcomes people from all different countries, immigrants of all kinds. The idea that everyone would sort of melt into this general kind of  ‘Americanness,’  my mother really bought into that,” O’Connell said. 

While both O’Connell and Hoang lived American lifestyles growing up in the D.C. area, they felt connected to their Vietnamese heritage in the same way: food. O’Connell’s mother would only speak English and would have a mixed diet of American and Vietnamese cuisine staples like PB&J sandwiches and Cha Gio, Vietnamese spring rolls.

“My mom was always cooking food, and food in this culture is huge. It’s more than just food; it’s very much family,” Hoang said. 

Eden Center remains a place for this connection of Vietnamese food and American life, especially for Vietnamese immigrants. Eden Center is a place to buy Vietnamese ingredients or dine at Vietnamese restaurants. O’Connell didn’t realize until much later the importance of it to her, but also to her mother who would never admit it. 

“She’s had this place to go for 50 years, at least Little Saigon and then Eden Center. She’s had places to go where she could speak her own language and see people who look like her and buy food that reminds her of her childhood. That’s extremely important for her and I’m sure it’s been for a lot of other immigrants too,” O’Connell said. 

Eden Center is a vibrant cornerstone of culture in Falls Church’s Seven Corners. Any day you go to Eden Center you’ll be greeted with hospitality and delicious food in their indoor mall or outdoor stores. 

Like any restaurant or business, Eden Center has been hit by COVID, and even before COVID was subject to organized robberies setting back growth the center achieved. O’Connell explained that some restaurants received one of the worst business they had ever seen but is beginning to bounce back. 

“I think this [the pandemic] is going to be kind of just a small blip on their whole history like overall. It’s just been a growing enterprise. It’s a great little community. I think it’ll be fine,” O’Connell said.  

Eden Center, and other restaurants in the DMV, provide a representation of how herbaceous, comforting, and fresh Vietnamese food is. 

“I think the assortment of carrots, the rice paper, and cut cucumbers are just such great taste of flavors. The crunch when you bite on it is just so good. The meat is always really well cooked, it’s never really undercooked. If you have chicken it’s generally juicy or it’s in some sort of soup so it’s not dry,” said WIS junior Siddharth Kalra, who lived in Vietnam.

Kalra explains the versatility of Vietnamese food. For a winter’s day, pho is an amazing meal that is both comforting and refreshing. Whereas, a banh mi’s fresh, pickled daikon with meaty paté and the addition of a spicy jalapeno on a fresh baguette is perfect for a summer day.

Across the DMV, in Eden Center and outside, there are many different restaurants that offer unique and authentic Vietnamese food. A modern favorite of O’Connell and Hoang is Rice Paper in Eden Center with delicious food. For a cheap and simple banh mi sandwich, there is Banh Mi D.C. Sandwich on Lee highway in Arlington. One of Kalra’s favorites, Pho 14, remains authentic and has the same first taste of pho he had when he moved to Vietnam. Finally, Hoang’s restaurant, Sprig and Sprout, offers fast casual authentic Vietnamese cuisine. 

“We focus on the most popular staples like pho, bahn mi, the noodle bowls: things that people really gravitate to,” Hoang said.  

Whether it’s diving into Eden Center, or staying close to WIS and going to Sprig and Sprout, the DMV Vietnamese population offers the same sense of family in their food that Hoang explained. 

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