A $7.99 Dining Epiphany

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I was blown away by a simple, stunning meal this weekend that cost me a whopping $7.99. We visited teeny Quan Nem Ninh Hoa on Stockton Boulevard, a gracious and unassuming family-owned establishment serving Vietnamese cuisine. The specialty of the restaurant (and by far the most popular menu item) is the “make it yourself” spring rolls (dac biet nem nuong). A big bowl of hot water is plunked in front of you, alongside a pile of dried round rice papers. The staff then ply you with a delectable assortment of ingredients – charbroiled skewers of marinated pork, crackly, deep-fried egg rolls, pickled carrots and daikon, and a frothy mountain of fresh greens and herbs. The idea is that you carefully moisten the rice paper in the hot water, then proceed to pile your personalized selection of ingredients on top of  it. When finished, you nimbly (or, in my case, clumsily) roll it all up like a little transparent burrito and dunk it into the kitchen’s slightly sweet, thick dipping sauce. I marveled at the explosion of clean, fresh, vigorous flavors, enjoying the contrasts of cool and hot; crunchy and soft. My $7.99 bought me more food than I could eat in one sitting, and I was able to bring a lumpy, overstuffed roll home to enjoy later that evening. This meal was a great reminder that food doesn’t have to be expensive to be electrifyingly delicious and satisfying.

Quan Nem Ninh Hoa: 6450 Stockton Boulevard, Sacramento, (916) 428-3748