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Travels around the World
Food & Wine Festival
review was originally published
in the November 13, 2001 issue of ALL EARS®.
(EXPLANATION OF SORTS: The Czarina is a Real Person who visits -- a lot at Walt Disney World. She takes sole responsibility for all opinions stated below. Do let us know what you think about this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Dear, Beloved Public
It is High Noon at the International Gateway at Epcot. Picture if you will the Czar and Czarina, tastebuds primed, embarking on a tour of World Showcase during the Absolutely Fabulous 2001 Food and Wine Festival. We stroll up the hill, sunshine dappling our weathered faces, past the shop on the left and the Seine embankment on the right, continuing past the Mary Poppins garden with its bees and butterflies, to the U.K. Pavilion.
Our object on this tour was to sample only the delicacies available at the Festival's food stands, not the regular Epcot restaurants.
"We must try to keep moving," said the Czar. "Yes,"I replied, "and kindly get away from that fish and chips stand. It is not part of the Festival."
The Czar moved on gamely, whimpering about Beavertails at the next pavilion. I distracted him by pointing out the kids' menu at a Festival stand manned by Pete from Coventry, just outside the Rose and Crown. This was intended for children to have food fun with some cleverly concocted treats.
First was a Taco Spritzer. This was pretty much a taco in a wineglass, with some beef filling, a couple of chips and sour cream. It was actually a very attractive idea, and Pete told us it was marketed for teens (a teeny martini?), but many adults were ordering it. The Czar tried it and found it delicious, and not too filling. Another offering was something called Yummi Gummi Sushi, which certainly looked exactly like the Japanese version. I bought a piece. "So, Pete" I said, "what's in this stuff?" "Well, the rice is Rice Krispies Treat mashed up," he said, "and the fish in the middle is actually cut-up Gummi Worms, and the seaweed wrapper is made out of fruit leather!" "Thank you, how interesting!" I replied, hastily wiping my hands and heading for the nearest waste bin.
Fortunately, the next stand didn't feature joke food, but Polish specialties. "Ah!' cried the Czar, "Stuff-stuff with Heavy!" This is a term used by us to denote food stuffed into other food, preferably with a heavy sauce. Actually we stole it from Calvin Trillin, but don't tell anyone. Pierogis with sour cream, offered here, are a perfect example. These potato dumplings were paired with excellent- quality kielbasa, or Polish sausage. The pierogis were a little gummy, but not bad at all. We also obtained a really terrific, outstanding version of Beef Stroganoff, a huge bowl of tender beef chunks cooked in red wine and sour cream, over egg noodles.
I believe it was at this point that we pledged to drink a lot of water, and forego all alcoholic beverages on our journey. I know, we were a couple of wimpy wusses, but YOU try drinking Polish beer and red wine and sangria in the Florida sun, while eating Stuff-Stuff with Heavy foods meant for the Warsaw winter, and not falling on your face in a stupor somewhere between Germany and Italy.
But I digress. Passing the Canada stand on the theory that the Cheddar Cheese soup and glazed salmon were available at Le Cellier, we forged on to Ecuador. I bet you didn't know Ecuador was in Canada, did you? Well, it is. Just as Ireland is between Norway and Mexico, as we were about to find out. Ecuador featured chocolate-dipped bananas, which we did not know were a national dish, and shrimp embedded in mashed potatoes. The shrimp were pretty good, really - spiced with hot chilis. Sort of a cold version of Stuff-Stuff with Heavy. We were beginning to think outside of the box, which is the whole point of the Food and Wine Festival.
Next was Ireland, where we shared a Baked Irish Bacon with Mashed Root Vegetables, another dish intended to sustain people engaged in heavy labor on the freezing moors or bogs. We disagreed about this; I found the bacon not salty enough, more like boiled corned beef, but the Czar loved it. You can't have too much Stuff-Stuff with Heavy.
Another piece of Festival advice, intrepid food travelers; share dishes, and don't feel you have to eat the whole thing. You are only investing a few dollars on each item; if you want to sample, you don¹t have to clean your plate every time.
"Norway, hooray!" the Czar shouted, stumbling past the Viking ship toward his favorite pavilion, home of the great Maelstrom ride and Rice Cream. Here we discovered our second Blue Ribbon Dish (the Stroganoff being the first), a perfectly chilled cold poached salmon with a creamy dill sauce. At last, a Florida-friendly offering, also authentic to its country of origin. And a good investment! It was a very large hunk of prime salmon for very small bucks.
We took a break. We rode Maelstrom. We drank another bottle of water. We consider this essential to Festival survival.
On to China. Finding our way blocked by the drawbridge, which was up to allow the passage of fireworks barges, we lingered by the Southeast Asia stand. The Chicken Satay was a reliable winner from years past, with great peanut sauce. Unfortunately this same sauce was slopped over very cold, chewy dumplings, which were right up there with the Yummi Gummi sushi in edibility.
"Excelsior!" we cried, waddling on toward Germany. There we sampled the Pork Ribs with Spaetzle (a starchy noodle), which was inoffensive but not served hot. Undaunted, we pressed on to Italy, craving yet more Stuff-Stuff with Heavy. We were not disappointed in the Penne Carbonara, very good pasta with Alfredo sauce and Italian bacon. The Pizza was adorned with good quality mozzarella and pepperoni but cold pizza is not fun. Australia and New Zealand, of course, were right next door to Italy, and offered a Festival favorite, luscious lamb chops with a sweet- sour salsa, our third Blue Ribbon Winner.
We skipped most of the USA offerings, but the Czar's sweet tooth was beginning to act up. He got himself a Honey Lemon Tart which he said was "over-sweet but lemony." He backtracked for a Rice Cream at Norway and returned a happy camper.
While we are on the subject, we must pause to lament the omission, this year, of the Chocolate stand. We know it is hard keeping chocolate items at the right temperature in Orlando, but we think it is worth the effort. Maybe next year.
Regretfully bypassing the Specialty Beer Garden with its exotic brews, we pressed on to Japan. There the Czar sampled their vegetarian sushi, with pickled veggies in the middle instead of fish. He found it bland, but it was nice to eat something out of the Stuff-Stuff with Heavy category.
Outside Morocco we paused to watch the wonderful Mo Rockin group with its glamorous belly dancer, snacking on the Marrakesh Combo - truly a small meal in itself with chicken, kibbe, (spiced ground lamb), couscous, chickpeas and turnips. Not too spicy and plenty for lunch, all by itself. They also offered a sort of cooked salad of peppers and tomatoes pureed, a very flavorful mush spiced with cumin. It would make a good dip.
There were a few misguided ideas at the Festival stands. One example was the Raclette from Switzerland. This is supposed to be piping-hot cheese with little potatoes and bread to dip into it, but turned out to be a rubbery slab on a paper plate. Some things just don't work as street food.
Witness also the Escargots in France, four very, very large snails on bread with an amazingly bright green sauce and walnuts. However, the Vol au Vent at the same stand proved to be lovely chunks of chicken and good mushrooms in a cream sauce.
This proved to be our very last Stuff-Stuff with Heavy adventure. Amazingly, almost without realizing it, we had come full circle around the World Showcase Lagoon! Despite the incredible carbo- load, we did not feel the need to park-hop to the Tomorrowland Transit Authority and snore while repeatedly riding it (one of the Czar's favorite activities). We feel that the exercise of walking and the lack of alcohol made the difference for us.
There is much, much more to the Food and Wine Festival than just the outdoor "sample" stands. There are informal indoor tastings, wine seminars (which are all free, and include wine samples), as well as the formal dinners at which winemakers speak about the vintages offered with every course. But for inexpensive, adventurous, informal, just-plain-fun dining (available for lunch or dinner) you can't beat a Moveable Feast tour around World Showcase at Festival time.
CZARINA'S TOP TIPS: If you drink, share glasses and don't eat too much. If you don't drink, share plates and don't forget the water. There is always something good around the next corner, and you wouldn't want to miss out because you're too full, would you?
WINNING DISHES WE HOPE WILL BE BACK NEXT YEAR: Beef Stroganoff, Salmon with Dill Sauce, Penne Carbonara and New Zealand Lamb Chops.
THE BOTTOM LINE: In October and November, Epcot is a banquet. Schedule a vacation to coincide with the Festival. Enjoy!