Or yet another episode of “This Is Why I Run”…
In what’s become a celebrated annual tradition for Ziggy-Piggy Foodies at Walt Disney World, Epcot presents their International Food and Wine Festival every fall. Between late September 27th and November 11th of this year, a virtual whirlwind of culinary activity takes over WDW’s second theme park, presenting all sorts of tantalizing treats from over 25 countries, providing a “global marketplace” for anyone and everyone to pretend they’re just “sampling” different “finger foods” when they’re really “pigging out” on “tons of real freakin’ yummy stuff” and slowly “spending probably too much money” until they can “barely walk from gluttony” and require the use of a “Wal-Mart scooter” and possibly a “dressing down” from “Richard Simmons”…
And sweet buttery Christmas, is it so worth it. We ended up trying nine different dishes from eight countries; our Plan of Attack was basically to try what we liked that you couldn’t normally get at Epcot. That meant avoiding countries that already have a year-round Epcot presence and foods that we semi-regularly eat at home. While I can’t say we entirely succeeded with that plan, I can definitely report that Boots and I were sufficiently both roly-er and poly-er by the end of our experience, and most entirely satisfied. Plus we got to experience some buttkickin’ musical entertainment throughout the day as well. Say what you want about the House of Mouse being overbearing on costs and cheap on deliverables, crowded, impersonal, cheeseball, whatever… but when they put on festivals such as Food & Wine, there’s almost way too much to see, do, and experience. We generally skip the seminars, wine tastings, premium demonstrations, mixologies, etc. and go straight for the grub. Thankfully it’s about a 1.2 mile walk around World Showcase, and we did it twice, so it wasn’t a totally one-side caloric transaction. Just mostly one-sided.
So let’s begin, shall we?
We began our journey with a sharp left at the World Showcase entrance, where we approached our first country of the day, just next to the Mexico Pavilion.
BRAZIL – Crispy Pork Belly
It’s a goshdarn shame that, although we’d come across loads of wonderful treats throughout the day, the first dish we tried turned out to be our absolute favorite. This was basically a really perfectly prepared Chicharrón: crisp on the outside while tender and flavorful on the inside, served on black beans and garnished with avocado and cilantro. ZOWIE was this good. So good, we ended up having two of these apiece (to be fair, these were sample-sized; the pork belly was just bigger than the size of your thumb) and came back several hours later for a third! If I had to nitpick, I might possibly say that the black beans were a bit “mushy” for my taste, but even as nitpicks go, that was fairly penny-ante. The Brazilian Crispy Pork Belly earned top accolades from us.
Well we didn’t have to travel the world far for our next adventure, because soon after we found ourselves in none other than…
ARGENTINA – Beef Empanada
All apologies to Webber & Rice for that caption. Anyway, by any measure this was a good empanada, but also nothing extraordinary either (as far as empanadas goes). Having lived in South FL for most of our lives (with Boots herself a descendant of proud South American stock), we know from empanadas enough that trying it at the Food & Wine Festival was a bit of a waste. We both agreed with it was good — a not-too-thick crust with a good spicy flavor and strong meaty presence — but, to put it in RPG/MMO terms, a waste of a good inventory slot. It’s definitely worth your time if you’re in the mood for an empanada, but otherwise not entirely necessary.
Thankfully we didn’t have to wait long to pick things back up, because soon after we found ourselves in the coolest part of…
SOUTH KOREA – Kimchi Dog
More apologies, this time to the Sherman brothers. Anyway, this was a mini hot-dog served with kimchi and spicy mustard, and it was wonderful. If you’re not familiar with kimchi, it’s the Korean national dish; fermented vegetables usually served spicy and/or sour. Kind of like a cole slaw of sorts. The kimchi served on this plate was fairly neutral, but enhanced by the spicy mustard, resulting in a remarkably tasty combination. We ended up being big fans. (And if you’re worried that it might be too spicy for your palate, don’t fret; it’s fairly mild-to-medium spiced, although you might want a drink to go with it…)
Wee left the Far East behind as Boots and I made a beeline to the Slavic World, as there was no chance we were going to pass up…
POLAND – Kielbasa and Potato Pierogie
… and Baba Booey to you all! The kielbasa was garnished with caramelized onions, the pierogie with a zig-zag of sour cream, and all of it almost immediately inhaled. Wow this was good eats! The pierogie was surprisingly light but very tasty, the kielbasa was crisp and smoky while accented by the sweetness of the onion garnish. We probably could have gone for seconds on this one as well, but decided to keep moving on. Where next? Was it Dutch? Was it French? Silly mortals, it was some combination thereof in…
BELGIUM – Potato and Leek Waffle with Braised Beef
Sadly, I had neglected to take a picture of this wonderful creation due to a technological malfunction… of my brain. Thankfully, Amanda Tinney at the wonderful Disney Every Day blog did, and granted Hokeyblog permission to use her photo. Isn’t she a peach? Feast your eyes on this! (And give Disney Every Day a look-see too!)
This was absolutely delicious. Warm, hearty, tasty, and extremely filling. The combination of a waffle with beef, potato, and leeks doesn’t seem obvious at first, but once you take your first bite you realize it makes PERFECT sense. I paired it with a cold, frosty Hoegaarden and was extremely pleased with myself. Which isn’t exactly a rare event, I’ll admit…
Well, that was definitely a winning selection of dishes, but around this time we decided to take a little break from noshing (AND from the heat! It was well into the 80s at this point). We were right next to The American Adventure and noticed that the next showtime was within a few minutes, so we took a well-needed half-hour break inside, watching the complete audio-animatronic show seated and in blessful air-conditioning. Afterward we stopped in Japan to shop at Mitsukoshi, which is always a must-stop for us. Boots is a Hello Kitty uber-geek, whereas I always gravitate towards the Studio Ghibli merchandise and collectibles. We purchased a few knicknacks and made our way to the UK, where The British Revolution was scheduled to play at 3:00 PM.
Boots and I both love catching The British Revolution every time we’re at Epcot. Known as The British Airwaves outside of Disney, they’re a local band contracted to several short sets a day in the UK Pavilion gardens. They specialize in British rock, not just from the 60s “British Revolution” but also from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. They seem to always do a Beatles song in their set (and there’s zero wrong with that!) but also cover hits from the Stones, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Blur, Oasis, Duran Duran, Elton John, Queen, and a host of other British artists. They have several showtimes a day (usually in the afternoon through early evening) and are well worth seeking out for a nice change of pace from your usual Epcot endeavors.
But back to the Festival! Wasting no time whatsoever (and with our appetites properly restored), we hit the Great White Way for the next country on our list, which is none other than…
CANADA – Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon
…and get me Bryan Adams on the phone! This was an extremely tender cut of meat, somewhere between medium rare and medium, covered with a mountain of those wild mushrooms and truffle butter sauce. This was a meal for a proud Yukon warrior!! Whatever that is… they let us have some too, and it tasted utterly splendid. I’ve read some other reports online where people were complaining that their’s was overcooked, but I found no such problem with mine at all. I could have definitely gone for seconds on this dish, but no time for love Dr. Jones because we’re overdue for a Mediterranean excursion to the sun-kissed islands of…
GREECE – Taste of Greece
… and I probably could have positioned that better so that the pita wasn’t covering half the plate! When you order the Taste of Greece, you’re not only greeted with a grateful “OPA!!” from the staff, but you’re also treated to a serving of grilled and marinated calamari, htipiti, eggplant dip, olives, and the aforementioned photobombing pita bread. I thought this dish was OK but it didn’t really stand out that much to me. The calamari was tender but didn’t have much flavor on its own. Dipped into the htipiti (which is a feta and roasted red pepper spread), it was more of a revelation. The htipiti had some spicy kick to it, which made dipping both the calamari and the pita into it enjoyable. The olives were standard, but the eggplant dip was disappointing and bland. Overall I think you can skip this one
But wait! We’re not done our Aegean experience yet, because we went back to the well for the delectable…
GREECE – Griddled Greek cheese with Pistachios and Honey
… aaand I changed the lyrics to keep this blog family friendly. We actually tried this last year and loved it, so double-dipping this time around was a no-brainer. And man-oh-man was it just as good as we remembered. The Greek cheese was perfectly prepared: lightly crispy on the outside, soft enough on the inside, with the crunchy saltiness of the pistachios complemented by the honey’s gooey sweetness. This is a must-try, and if you refuse then you might as well go pound sand.
But pound that sand elsewhere because there’s still so much else to see, do, and scarf! We began our second leg around World Showcase with a trip on the Grand Fiesta Tour. It’s a simple little boat attraction in the Mexico Pavilion, starring The Three Caballeros themselves: Donald Duck, José Carioca (a Brazilian parrot), and Panchito (a Mexican rooster). I’m a huge, huge fan of the 1944 Disney feature film — it might very well be the first Disney movie I ever saw in theaters during a mid-70’s re-release. Anyway, getting out of the sun and onto a boat ride is always a welcome respite on a pretty scorching day.
What happened next was pretty much the highlight of my day… it was time for the first showing of the day’s Eat To The Beat concert, and perhaps the main reason why we chose this day for our Epcot adventure. That’s right it was 80s music time, and representing the decade of my coming-of-age was none other than…
… that’s right, legendary 80s all-female band The Go-Go’s. Both Boots and I were pretty excited to check them out; neither of us had ever seen them before, although Boots had seen Belinda Carlisle in concert before, where the sound was so unbelievably terrible that every song sounded like Circle In The Sand… except for Circle In The Sand. I’m not sure what Circle In The Sand sounded like… maybe I Get Weak? Oh crap, I just stole one of her better concert stories. I hope she ain’t reading this, or I’m sleeping on the Hokey-Couch.
*ahem* ANYway, we lined up in front of the America Gardens Theater for the 5:30 show, and pretty soon we were in our seats, bouncing with excitement. We even watched as the band walked past us on their way backstage. I have to tell you, Belinda Carlisle looked phenomenal up close. When I was 10, I grew a sizably huge crush on her when I first saw her performing “Our Lips Our Sealed” on Saturday Night Live. This was before cable, MTV, or even an appearance on Solid Gold, so it left a pretty lasting impression. I’m happy to report she probably looks even better now. Soon after the band took the stage to a delighted capacity crowd, and they sounded damn great.
They had a pretty abbreviated set-list (this was the first of 3 shows that day), but they definitely hit all the career highlights while throwing in a couple of lesser-known tracks:
- Get Up And Go
- How Much More
- Mad About You (from Belinda Carlisle)
- Cool Places (from The Sparks and Jane Wiedlin)
- Head Over Heels
- Our Lips Our Sealed
- We Got The Beat / Rock N Roll All Nite (from Kiss)
We really loved this performance. The band was in great form, the music had people dancing and singing along, and even the Kiss cover tune — one which, as a huge huge Kiss fan, I could spend the rest of my life blissfully never hearing again — worked well. I could have sat for another eight songs or so, but it was time to move on. Long story short, catch The Go-Go’s if they’re in your area. It’s a fun time and then some.
Well we had to finish our evening in grand style, so we returned to the Land of the Rising Sun for some hand-rolled deliciousness. That’s right, it was time for…
JAPAN – Spicy Hand Roll
… wait was Del Amitri a dude or a band? Ahh I forget… anyway this hand roll featured tuna and salmon with chili pepper, soy sauce, sesame oil, and Kazan Volcano sauce, and it was thoroughly delicious. The spice wasn’t overbearing — if anything, I think it should have been a lot more prevalent — but as far as hand rolls go, this one was a definite winner.
Well by this time we were pretty well stuffed and tired from a full day of walking and noshing. We decided to make our way back to the hotel, but passing by the UK Pavilion we saw that The British Revolution was due for another show within minutes, so we stayed for and totally enjoyed another of their sets. Afterward, we were definitely done. It was already dark and we had been at the park since 10:30 that morning. We motored back to our hotel and fell into a massive and well-earned Food-Induced Coma of Joy.
So there you have it: our wondrous experience at the 2013 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival! If you happen to be in Orlando or at the Walt Disney World resort between now and November 11th, definitely take the time to spend the day at Epcot scarfing all sorts of magical goodies. For us, it was definitely worth the 3 hour schlep up the Florida Turnpike… although attending Halloween Horror Nights the night before and seeing The Go-Go’s for free didn’t exactly hurt either. Anyway, for more information about the Food & Wine Festival, you can check out Disney’s official page or (even better) the Disney Food Blog. Nosh on, my friends. Here’s the video: