EATING AROUND THE WORLD: 2018 EPCOT FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL

Every year, the Epcot theme park at Walt Disney World hosts a Food & Wine Festival, featuring an expanded menu of small plates and drinks throughout the park for you to sample. There are a multitude of countries represented at stands set up around the park, including ones that are not an exhibit country in the World Showcase Lagoon. Accompanying the country stands are also specialty stands, featuring items like barbecue or desserts.

Last year was the first opportunity that I had to go to the festival after moving down here to central Florida, but didn’t get the chance to make it. This time around, I didn’t hesitate to seize the opportunity and plan for a trip up to Epcot last weekend with my friends Carlos and Sara.

Festival passport provided at the entrance of Epcot and at various locations around the park.

~><~

All of the festival booth locations are detailed out inside, with their food and drink offerings listed.

~><~

When you first enter into the park, display cases are set up where you can pick up a “festival passport.” That handy little booklet lists out all of the food and beverage offerings at each festival location as well as stickers in the middle to “stamp” your passport once you’ve visited. It’s about the size of your hand and can easily fit into your pocket, making it a great way to keep track of everything you’ve tried throughout the day and also chart the course for the next festival location you want to explore.

The average price for a plate of food at the festival ran around $5 – $7, so you could still sample a pretty decent variety of items without setting off a five-alarm fire on your wallet. Throw into the mix any drinks you’re interested in trying out, like beer, wine, or cocktails, then it might be more of a balancing act to decide what you want to go for. But if you budget a set amount ahead of time and keep a rough mental estimate as you move throughout the day, you can certainly make the most of the festival experience.

~><~

~><~

~><~

From a logistics perspective, it was smart for each stand to break up the ordering and food pick-up. After placing your order with the cashier, you would take your receipt over to an expeditor in the set-up kitchen, who would then give you your food / drinks. It helps to cut down on the crowd bottlenecking, especially when dealing with a higher number of guests.

During the work week, I had talked with one of my friends, Jared, who mentioned to keep an eye out at the festival for the croissant donut (“cronut” for short), which was one of his favorite items from visiting the festival last year. Once at the park, we decided that there was no better way to start the day off than with a breakfast-type item, so our first food stop was to get our fill of cronuts.

~><~

Croissant Donut with Vanilla Frosting and Sprinkles

~><~

Croissant Donut with Chocolate Hazelnut Cream and Raspberries

~><~

Resembling the shape of a donut but having the light, flaky dough of a croissant, the cronut was definitely a winner. What surprised me even more was that there was hardly a line at the food stand to grab one! Of the two that we got, I think I preferred the chocolate one better. That fruit and chocolate flavor complimented the pastry better than the vanilla frosting did. But don’t get me wrong, put either of them down in front of me and you’ll see it disappear real quick.

Our food journey then took us to venture around the World Showcase, which gave us the opportunity to glance at country booths’ menus as we were walking by. It was also really helpful that on one side of the menus, there were large pictures of the food items if you were finding it difficult to choose. Our next stops included Mexico, Greece, and China for some additional bites to eat and change it up from the sweet flavors we had so far to savory flavors.

Short Rib Tostada
Mini fried corn tortilla with pulled short rib and black beans, topped with salsa verde.

~><~

~><~

Loaded Greek Nachos
Pita chips topped with meatless sausage, diced tomatoes, red onions, lettuce, kalamata olives, and a vegan tzatziki sauce.

~><~

Xi’an Pancake
Pan-fried scallion pancake with marinated chili garlic beef.

~><~

Chicken Dumplings
Pan-fried dumplings with a chicken and vegetable filling, served with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce.

~><~

Of that grouping of plates, the short rib tostada and Xi’an pancake were my favorites. The pulled short rib meat was very plentiful on the mini fried tortilla, and the spicy flavor and acidic punch from the salsa verde balanced out the flavors from the meat and black beans. For the Xi’an pancake, it was constructed just like a taco, most likely for easy one-handed eating. The fried scallion pancake was folded in half, creating a nice pocket for the marinated chili garlic beef stuffed right in the middle. Between Carlos and myself, that Xi’an pancake disappeared real quick.

To help pace ourselves with the food, the breaks we took to go check out some rides or just walk around the park were really helpful to make sure we never were feeling stuffed. We hit up Test Track and Soarin’ pretty early in the day, and then took another food break by riding the Living with the Land boat ride right before lunchtime. After getting off the ride, we felt good enough to start hitting up the food stands again.

Charred Chimichurri Skirt Steak
Skirt steak cooked medium rare and served on a griddle corn cake with pickled vegetable slaw, topped with a cilantro aioli.

~><~

Smoked Corned Beef
Smoked chunks of corned beef served on freshly-fried potato chips, topped with a beer cheese fondue and pickled onions.

~><~

~><~

~><~

~><~

Lump Crab Cake
Crab cake served on top of a bed of Napa cabbage slaw, topped with an avocado-lemongrass cream.

~><~

Loaded Mac & Cheese
Macaroni immersed in a cheddar cheese sauce, topped with pepper bacon crumbles, toasted breadcrumbs, and scallions.

~><~

Both the smoked corn beef and charred skirt steak dishes from the Flavors from Fire specialty booth tasted great (so great, in fact, that Carlos later in the day wanted to go back for another round of the smoked corn beef). There were great grilled flavors on both meats, and I liked the savory corn pancake that the skirt steak was served on. The steak itself was cooked to a nice medium-rare and wasn’t chewy at all.

Over at the nearby pod of specialty food stands Active Eats, Coastal Eats, and Earth Eats, we picked up a total of three dishes, one from each stand. The crab cake was probably the most disappointing, since I felt like it was made up mostly of mayo and didn’t have enough crabmeat. The Steakhouse beef burger was pretty average, about the size of a slider and didn’t have a lot of flavors that jumped out at you. The mac & cheese, on the other hand, was on the total opposite end of that spectrum. Savory flavors came at you right out of the gate, followed by the heat from diced jalapeño peppers cooked right into the cheese sauce. Pepper bacon crumbles and toasted breadcrumbs also helped to give the dish a little bit of a crunch in each bite.

Between sodium in the foods as well as walking around the park on a hot day, it was definitely important to keep hydrated. We often took walking breaks back over to one of the restaurants to fill up our water bottles with some ice water. On the way back out to the World Showcase, we stumbled across the Wine & Dine Studio specialty booth. I had read up on a few blog articles about how the seared scallops dish at the booth was one of the top things to eat while at the festival; it was time to take a quick pit stop and see what all the hype was about.

Seared Scallops
Two seared scallops served on a truffled celery root purée, Brussels sprout leaves, and sautéed wild mushrooms.

~><~

Two seared scallops, served on a celery root purée with sautéed wild mushrooms and Brussels sprout leaves, this dish was really well balanced. There was a savory flavor present from all the ingredients, but nothing overpowered the other. The mushrooms brought a bit of earthiness that balanced out the scallops, seared just right and not rubbery at all. Definitely make a point to check it out if you get the chance.

Of course, with it being summertime in Florida, we saw a stray raincloud pop up in the distance and head towards the park. We decided to pre-emptively take some shelter in the café over in the France area to wait it out as the rain passed by. The side benefit of the summertime rain was that it also moves very quickly; the rain came down pretty good for maybe about five minutes before the sun came back out again.

Teriyaki Chicken Bun
Steamed bun filled with chicken, vegetables, and a sweet teriyaki sauce.

~><~

Spicy Roll
Spicy salmon and spicy tuna wrapped on the inside of this sushi roll, topped with “volcano sauce” (spicy mayo).

~><~

We continued our walk around the World Showcase and ended up over at the Japan booth, where Carlos and I decided to pick up the teriyaki chicken bun as well as the spicy roll. The teriyaki chicken bun was steamed, with the diced chicken and teriyaki sauce marinade filled on the inside. Since moving down to Florida, I haven’t been able to find a place that served good bao, so it was great to get the chance to have one during the festival. As for the spicy tuna roll, it was a constructed sushi roll that just wasn’t cut up into pieces. There was spicy tuna and spicy salmon stuffed in the middle and topped with spicy mayo. It was good and definitely packed a little bit of heat with every bite, but I’m not sure if it would rank on the “must try.”

After stocking up on some more food as well as walking around the shops in the Japan area, we set out to finish our loop around the World Showcase. We ended up all the way back at the northern side of the lagoon (for perspective, Japan is situated over on the southern side). Along the way, we passed by the Spain booth, where we picked up a plate of chorizo and roasted chicken paella. The piece of chorizo was probably the tastiest item that was on the plate, with the majority of the rice seeming a little dry.

Chorizo and Roasted Chicken Paella
Spanish-style paella served with roasted chicken and a large chunk of chorizo.

~><~

~><~

Teriyaki-Glazed SPAM Hash
Chunks of SPAM mixed with potatoes, peppers, and onions cooked in a teriyaki sauce, topped with a spicy mayo.

~><~

Kalua Pork Slider
Shredded kalua pork served with a sweet & sour pineapple chutney and spicy mayo on a King’s Hawaiian roll.

~><~

While at the north end of the lagoon, we seized the opportunity to hit up the Hawaii booth as well as the Almond Orchard specialty booth (which was sponsored by Blue Diamond Almond Breeze). There was a teriyaki-glazed SPAM hash and Kalua pork slider that caught our eye from Hawaii, while Sara had her eye on the glass of Dom Pérignon champagne that was being offered over at the Almond Orchard. She also picked up a plate of the spinach & artichoke dip, which was made with the twist of adding some toasted almonds to it.

SPAM is a staple of Hawaiian cuisine, and incorporating it into the teriyaki-glazed hash was a real winner. The sweet flavors from the teriyaki sauce balanced out the savoriness coming from the fried pieces of SPAM, along with chunks of potatoes providing that starchy texture and spicy mayo on top adding that punch of heat. Of the grouping of dishes that we got, I certainly enjoyed that SPAM hash the most.

After that, we decided that it was time for another break from the food, so we headed back over towards the Epcot “golf ball” to get a water refill and hop in line for the Spaceship Earth ride. It gave us a little under an hour to digest a little bit, walk around some more to burn off some of the food, before venturing back over to the World Showcase to start another loop. First up during this leg was the food from the Islands of the Caribbean booth.

~><~

Ropa Vieja Empanada
Shredded beef with peppers, onions, and garlic filled on the inside, topped with tomato aioli.

~><~

Jerk Spiced Chicken Lollipop
Chicken drumstick with jerk seasoning charred on the grill, topped with a mango chutney yogurt sauce and sweet plantains on the side.

~><~

The ropa vieja empanada was something that we had circled on our list as something to check out, and it was certainly worth the wait. Shredded beef combined with peppers, onions, and garlic, the ropa vieja filling was packed with savory flavor and very moist. That was a nice contrast to the crunchy outer shell of the empanada, which also had a tomato aioli drizzled over the top. Definitely a good thing we decided to get two of those, since I downed the whole thing practically by myself.

It was tough to follow up the empanada, but the jerk spiced chicken lollipop made a valiant attempt. I thought that the chicken had a good char from the grill on the outside, giving it a nice flavor that helped to balance out the mango chutney yogurt and sweet plantains that were served with it. I didn’t, however, remember having any of the jerk seasoning flavor come through, or maybe it was overpowered by the yogurt sauce that was put on top.

We entered into the final stretch of meal-type food items, since we still wanted to leave some real estate for the dessert round. So it was then that we decided to close it out with two dishes that we had made a note of while walking around during the day: a beef brisket poutine dish I had spotted and an Irish sausage dish that Carlos had mentioning about all day.

~><~

Beef Brisket Poutine
French fries topped with shredded beef brisket, poutine gravy, beer cheese sauce, and crispy onions.

~><~

Roasted Irish Sausages
Two Irish sausage links served on a bed of Colcannon potatoes and a pool of onion gravy.

~><~

It’s a good thing that I still had enough room in my stomach to fully enjoy that beef brisket poutine, because it was fantastic. The dish itself was very straightforward: French fries, beer cheese sauce, poutine gravy, shredded beef brisket, and crispy onions. I like all of those things, and putting them all together, it was definitely a winner for me. It for sure went on my list of items to get on a return trip to the festival.

Just right around the corner from the Refreshment Port booth where we picked up the poutine was the Ireland booth, serving up the roasted Irish sausages that Carlos had his eyes on. Two links served on top of a bed of Colcannon potatoes and a pool of onion gravy, the dish was another one that definitely delivered. This version of bangers and mash had all the hearty flavors you looked for in the dish, with that gravy really tying everything together.

After inhaling both of those dishes, we continued the loop once again around the World Showcase and stopped on the far end at the outdoor amphitheater, staying to watch the Baha Men perform as a part of the “Eat to the Beat” concert series. By the time they finished performing, 9 p.m. was rolling around and it was time to get ready to camp out for a spot to watch the IllumiNations fireworks show that started at 10 p.m.

Watching the Baha Men perform as a part of Epcot’s “Eat to the Beat” concert series during the festival.

~><~

But first, it was time to open that second stomach reserved just for desserts. We made our way over to the Chocolate Studio booth, which had a surprisingly low number of people in line. We picked up both of the food items they were offering: the liquid nitro chocolate-almond truffle and sweet dark chocolate raspberry torte.

~><~

Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle
Super-cooled chocolate truffle served with a warm whiskey caramel sauce.

~><~

Sweet Dark Chocolate Raspberry Torte
Decadent chocolate cake served with raspberry sauce and white chocolate.

~><~

On paper, spending 14 hours inside the park just eating, walking around, and hopping on rides seemed like it’d be an impressive feat to pull off. I had some doubts as we were walking into the park around 8:45 a.m., but we ended up staying all the way through the fireworks, which wrapped up around 10:30 p.m. The 11 miles that we walked while inside the park definitely didn’t hurt to help to offset some of the food that we ate.

I’m certainly glad to have been able to make it up to the festival this year and would highly recommend others to go and check it out as well. If you do a bit of research on the menu items before heading into the park so you know what to save room for, it’ll definitely be a worthwhile experience.

It’s definitely hard to choose between everything we ate that day, but here are my personal top favorites that I would say are “must try” from the festival:

  • Xi’an Pancake (China)
  • Croissant Donut with Chocolate Hazelnut Cream (Taste Track)
  • Loaded Mac & Cheese (Active Eats)
  • Beef Brisket Poutine (Refreshment Port)
  • Ropa Vieja Empanada (Islands of the Caribbean)
  • Seared Scallops (Wine & Dine Studio)
  • Roasted Irish Sausages (Ireland)
  • Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle (Chocolate Studio)

Categories: Food Adventures

Tagged as: , , , ,

1 reply »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: