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Killing Me Softly

Would it trouble you terribly if I told you that I'm guilty of murder? The murder of a strapping, dark-haired chap, whom I'd only just met in Chandler? The homicide would cause me more grief had it not been so much bloody fun. Oh, I know I'll suffer in the...
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Would it trouble you terribly if I told you that I'm guilty of murder? The murder of a strapping, dark-haired chap, whom I'd only just met in Chandler? The homicide would cause me more grief had it not been so much bloody fun. Oh, I know I'll suffer in the end. But for the moment, let me celebrate his demise with a bite-size, cream-filled pastry and a cup of rich, French-style coffee.

No need to alert the authorities. The handsome bloke I mention is none other than the vision of my thinner self, one I'd hoped to bring to life with a new regimen of walking and abstemiousness. I figured to begin with a stroll through the immense Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket at the intersection of Dobson and Warner roads. There, I'd work up a sweat with an hour or three of serious power shopping. How did I know it would all end with me at Lee's Sandwiches across Warner, stuffing these mini cakes called Delimanjoo into my gob at a furious rate, and thus killing off the chance of a skinny me?

My road to perdition is paved with pho, people -- pho being that savory Vietnamese soup of rice noodles, beef broth and various other ingredients, all so fresh, healthful, and easy on the billfold. I'd totally forgotten that one of the best pho spots in greater Phoenix is just to the side of Lee Lee's, actually part of the same building -- Yen Mi Restaurant. It's a no-frills place, the kind where you can devour mass quantities for well under $10. I hadn't had pho in a while, and as I'd skipped breakfast, I figured I really needed some calories in my system. All that walking I was about to do required some energy, yes?

So I stopped in at Yen Mi for lunch, and had a bowl of pho with tripe, meatballs, brisket and rump roast. With the soup, you're offered a plate of bean sprouts, mint, and basil, which I proceeded to dump into the bowl and stir. I squeezed out such vast amounts of red-hot Sriracha as I chopsticked noodles to my mouth that a durian smoothie seemed in order to quiet the lingering burn. Durian is usually so smelly that the fruit's not even allowed on public transport in Asia. But the sweet, yellowish innards are light and refreshing, and in smoothie form the fruit hardly reeks at all.

Not much fat in this spread, I reasoned, so why not add on some Vietnamese spring and summer rolls? Vietnamese spring rolls are deep-fried like egg rolls, but you wrap them in lettuce and dip them in fish sauce before consuming. Surely the lettuce must negate the ill effects of the frying, I rationalized. Summer rolls are crafted of shrimp, pork, rice vermicelli and mint, wrapped in rice paper, and served cold and unfried, with a peanutty dipping sauce. Most scrumptious. So much so, I had to have two portions.

Now, don't look at me that way. I told you they weren't fried!

One point sure to confuse: "Spring rolls" are referred to as "egg rolls" at Yen Mi; and the "summer rolls" are labeled as "spring rolls." Don't worry about the proper terminology, darlings, just thrust them into your porthole, work your jaw, swallow, and pay the man when you leave. All these I proceeded to do; then it was on to Asian grocery heaven.

Lee Lee's is one-stop shopping for those concerned with Asian cuisine, and no, it's not at all affiliated with Lee's Sandwiches, which I'll come to shortly. Here you can purchase such exotica as fried crickets in a can, thousand-year eggs (actually preserved for 100 days, but who's counting?), whole prickly durian fruits, duck carcasses with the heads on, pig uteruses, and taro (purple yam) ice cream. Not to mention that Lee Lee's fish section is, um, off the hook, with a wide variety of gill-bearers and ocean-floor crawlers from which to choose. There's also a little shop next door that sells all manner of knickknacks and jewelry, from jade bracelets and golden Buddhas to lucky bamboo and Chinese wind chimes.

Truth be told, I was on the hunt for some nigori sake for my fridge. Nigori is a sweet, milky, unfiltered sake, served chilled. But before you admonish me, remember alcohol is good for digestion, and regular, moderate intakes make you live longer, so it would be in the purview of my new health regimen. Lee Lee's has a superb selection of nigori, as it does of many other Asian beers and wines. After making a complete tour of the market's aisles, I gathered up several bottles, and made my way to the checkout.

Following this walkabout, I was positively famished. So I made a beeline to nearby Lee's Sandwiches, a franchise of the famous California chain, which began in San Jose, flourishing through the toil and sweat of the immigrant Le family. (They added an "e" so as not to boggle the minds of us gringos.)

The sammies Lee's sells are typical Vietnamese banh mi, a culinary marriage of Asian and French influences. The thin, crusty French bread, made on site, is the French contribution, as is the mayo and butter that are often added. The Vietnamese end of the deal comes from the cilantro, pickled daikon and carrots. The two cultures split the difference on the meats, with Gallic-styled jambon (ham) and hog liver pâté getting equal billing with Chinese barbecued pork and crushed Vietnamese pork meatballs, along with headcheese and sliced pork roll.

Lee's is a huge, gleaming place, with a big flat-screen TV playing CNN, and since its sammies are awfully thin, as I've mentioned, I naturally had to order a couple. Okay, I ordered three: Vietnamese meatball, an American-styled roast beef (they have numerous Yankee-friendly selections, you see), and a combo sammy of jambon, headcheese and pâté. The fresh bread really made all three for me, and before I knew it, they had all vanished into my belly.

At some stage in Macbeth, Shakespeare's tragic hero realizes that he's killed so many men, one more won't make any difference. I felt similarly, and so started in on a box of the above-mentioned Delimanjoo, cakes shaped like little ears of corn, hot off a machine that pumps them out before your eyes. Sigh. My skinny self will just have to get used to this coffin of flab. And who trusts a thin food critic, anyway?

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