Germaine’s of Washington
The First pan-Asian Restaurant!
If you traveled to Washington, DC in the 1970s and 1980s, you may have visited Germaine’s Restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue in upper Georgetown tor some of her Asian food.
If you lived in Washington during that period, then Germaine’s was the place to take visitors from out of town, to show them that you were in the know.. Her restaurant survived for two decades, a rare thing for restaurants, anywhere. Germaine’s clients included several of the embassies of Asian countries in Washington, who relied on her expert catering.
Restaurant clients included American and foreign diplomats, high profile journalists, politicians and executives.
The food at Germaine’s included dishes of her native Vietnam, as well as Korea, Japan, Hawaii and Indonesia.. Her cooking style was unique in being at the same time authentic and also adapting recipes and service to the tastes of Americans.
AS Bonnie Wolf of The Washington Post put it, she “prepared the foods of Southeast Asia skillfully and imaginatively for American tastes without compromising the original cuisine.””
The menu was described as pan-Asian, and in fact Germaine herself used the term and insisted her restaurant was the first pan-Asian restaurant anywhere in the world.
Famous dishes at Germaine’s included Singapore Noodles, Basil Chicken., Pine-Cone Fish and many others.
Who was Germaine herself? Germaine Donovan was a Vietnamese from Hanoi, who was trained as an Army nurse and after the fall of Hanoi worked for Time-Life in its Saigon bureau as a war correspondent. She was also an expert cook. Germaine married Dick Swanson, an American journalist with Time-Life and joined him in the United States when Saigon fell to the Viet Cong.
Not only did she come to America, but she was joined by a dozen of her closest family members. One of her sisters had married a colonel in the Vietnamese Air Force, and this turned out to be crucial in the family’s getting seats in an airplane at the collapse of Saigon. Dick Carlson describes their departure as The Last Exit from Saigon.
In America, Germaine established her restaurant, in part to help support the large number of relatives who had joined her in the States.
After the restaurant finally shuttered in the late 1980s, Germaine was a consultant for the MeiWah Chinese restaurant on New Hampshire Avenue in Washington, D.C., and later, in her 70s, was operating a catering business out of Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Germaine was influential in introducing a generation of Americans to a variety of Asian cuisines and dishes and to a whole concept of Fusion cuisine, but it does not appear that she ever authored a cookbook. A number of her recipes, like this one for Chicken Soup, still circulate informally among friends and former customers.