The new salmon BLT sushi roll at the Japan Marketplace is a filling bang for your Food & Wine buck — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Orlando's Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, now in its 22nd year, is something like a benevolent Blob from an alternate universe. It grows exponentially â€“ 2017’s is the longest ever at 75 days â€“ and draws inspiration from new nations, ingredients and styles â€“ every year. Only it’s the guests who are moving through the park’s many marketplaces, devouring everything in sight.
This year, Epcot celebrates its 35th anniversary and as such, favorites from festivals past are hot on the must-taste list of annual pilgrims and noobs should mark their event passports, as well. These include Thailand, Spain and India Marketplaces, each of which are offering brand-new dishes to savor.
Teriyaki-glazed SPAM hash, new in the Hawai'i Marketplace; Culinary Director Gregg Hannon says SPAM's been on their to-do list for a number of years — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Many guests choose to wing it, others study the dishes and map out strategies, but unless your competitive eating skills rival the world’s top contenders, you’re going to tap out before you can taste everything.
“Some of my friends and regulars who come here are telling me it’s taking three or four visits to make it to everything,” says Gregg Hannon, Culinary Director, Epcot Food and Beverage, “so if you’re a visitor who has that kind of time, attack it by spending one day in each section of the park.”
Important to remember come this time of year: Epcot has rides, too!
Hannon laughs. “Definitely take breaks between bites,” he says. “We’ve got Soarin’ and Test Track and you can take in one of the Eat to the Beat concerts we’re having all festival long. During this time of year there’s a great vibe in the park, everyone is really enjoying the culture and the food, but we’re still an amusement park!”
If you're a veteran festival-goer, or a curious first-timer mapping out a strategy, here are some items that are new to this year's menu â€“ which you'll want to add to your must-taste list â€“ as well as new marketplaces.
On the menu
Braised beef "stroganoff"
Braised beef "stroganoff" — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
The braised beef "stroganoff," with tiny egg noodles, wild mushroom and Boursin Garlic and Fine Herbs Cheese sauce can be found at The Cheese Studio in Future World West.
Spain's seafood salad Ââ€“ everything tastes better in a martini glass — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Spain is a returning marketplace this year. The above ceviche-like dish is among its new offerings.
Charcuterie in a Cone
Noshy handheld: Charcuterie in a Cone — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
The Charcuterie in a Cone is among Chef Hannon's festival favorites. "The imported meats and cheeses and olives are flavored with an herb vinaigrette and it’s great for walking around and nibbling on."
Crispy chicken with griddled cornbread and red eye gravy
Down-home comfort: crispy chicken from Farm Fresh — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Dig soul food a la Disney? Sample the crispy chicken with griddled cornbread and red eye gravy at the Farm Fresh Marketplace. There are three craft cider options with which to pair it, plus Florida Orange Groves Mango Mamma wine, made local in St. Petersburg.
Zesty cheeseburger and cheddar cheese macaroni handwich
Zesty cheeseburger and cheddar cheese macaroni handwich — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Its "cheeseburger"-inclusive name might be confusing, but the beefy mac blend that fills this bread cone has been a hit with guests. Disney staffers tout it as "comfort in a cup."
Spicy Ethiopian red lentil stew
The author's favorite so far: spicy Ethiopian red lentil stew — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
You don't have to be a vegan to enjoy the Africa Marketplace's spicy Ethiopian red lentil stew with vegan yogurt and quinoa, but it is among the dishes at this year's festival that vegans can enjoy with abandon. It's also one of Hannon's top picks.
Pistachio cardamom bundt cake
Pistachio cardamom bundt cake — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
The pistachio cardamom bundt cake, available at the India Marketplace, features chocolate-coconut mousse at its center.
Seared shrimp and scallop cake
Seared shrimp and scallop cake with cold noodle salad — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Many people come to Epcot to "Thai one on." At the Thailand Marketplace, you can pair the seared shrimp and scallop cake with a Singha lager or Helfrich Gewurztraminer.
Sweet pancake with spicy chipotle-chicken sausage
Sugar & spice: the sweet pancake — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Spice lovers will feel the heat at the new Flavors from Fire Marketplace. This is the sweet pancake with spicy chipotle-chicken sausage, onion jam and maple butter syrup. If that sweetness tempers the spice too much, save room for the dark chocolate mousse with cayenne pepper, chili powder and raspberry dust.
Tex & Mex? The Ribeye taco — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
This Mexico Marketplace delight will appease carnivores. It features marinated ribeye, roasted chipotle sauce and grilled scallions on a corn tortilla.
Seared scallops with corn and succotash
Seared scallop from Coastal Eats — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Scallops are notoriously easy to overcook. Hannon says that lots of training ensures they're seared to order on-site, even in a Festival Marketplace. Coastal Eats is where you'll find the seared scallops with roasted corn and butterbean succotash and chili-chipotle butter sauce.
Swine & Brine cocktail
Cutest name contender: the Swine & Brine — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Bourbon lovers on the lookout for a less booze-forward cocktail, hit up Flavors from Fire for the Swine & Brine. This autumnal beverage features Evan Williams Bourbon and comes garnished with a hunk of pork.
Grilled tuna tataki
Grilled tuna tataki — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
From Hawai'i, the grilled tuna tataki with seaweed salad, pickled cucumbers and wasabi cream is a light bite that pairs well not only with the popular Florida Orange Groves Sparkling Pineapple wine, but also the Florida heat!
Dining in the House of Mouse: Walt Disney World's Top Tables
Dining in the House of Mouse: Walt Disney World's Top Tables
Food & Wine veterans may be most interested in the five brand-new marketplaces they’re featuring this year.
Active Eats features some returning favorites from festivals past (loaded mac n’ cheese with Nueske’s pepper bacon, cheddar cheese, peppers and green onions) and focuses on super foods â€“ avocado and quinoa among them.
Coastal Eats is pretty self-explanatory. This is where you’ll find this year’s version of something I’ve touted in the past: the miraculously well-seared Disney festival scallop!
Flavors from Fire is another that needs no explanation; the spice-infused selections run the gamut from app to dessert!
The Almond Orchard â€“ hosted by Blue Diamond Almond Breeze â€“ features this nutrition-packed snack in its offerings, as well as a host of the event’s bubbly champagnes.
The Light Lab is a glow-in-the-dark booth experience that may have kids in mind â€“ they’ll likely love the glowing T=C² and RGB non-alcoholic offerings. This all-new experience also boasts an array of craft brew options, plus the lovely Bleu Spectrum, a blue-champagne cocktail with delicate boba pearls.
Only coming for one day? Bring lots of friends and family and share plates to get in as many tastes as you can.