Eventually Spending $13 at Saigon Deli

10 pounds of food.

Many Seattleites love Vietnamese delis for their banh mi, but I'm both obsessed with and mystified by the stacks of plastic-wrapped Styrofoam plates displayed around the counter. You could make three lunches out of these cold meals, snacks, and sweets for the price of a turkey sandwich.

Saigon Deli has a small but particularly good-looking arrangement of wrapped goods. Just to make this $13 trip a challenge, I avoided not only sure hits like spring rolls and deep-fried sesame balls but also things I already love, like sticky rice with Chinese sausage and dried shrimp.

I carefully selected three or four packages and gave them to the counterperson. How much? "$6.50," she called out. Ran back to the fridge for a sweet drink and grabbed another package: $10.50. People were lining up around me, and the maximum capacity of the entire store is six, so I tossed in a can of soda and another dessert to raise the total to $12.50. "You're on a mission," the customer next to me said. The plastic grocery sack I was handed held 10 pounds of food. No exaggeration.

My idiot camera's battery died after one shot, and before it fully recharged I ate the rice noodles with roast pork and slices of nem chua, a bright-pink, pickled pork sausage studded with whole white peppercorns. The meats came with a fantastic cucumber-carrot-jalapeño salad, cilantro sprigs, and nuoc cham, the ubiquitous dipping sauce. This was my favorite dish. Sorry there's no close-up photo.

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