What do you get when you cross a mouse, world travel, and deliciousness? If you said a scene from Ratatouille, you’d be right, but today I’m talking about the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival. This annual event takes place for three months every autumn at The Walt Disney World Resort’s EPCOT Theme Park. It’s a major draw for all ages; featuring appetizer sized portions of some of the world’s most delectable offerings. As if that weren’t enough to convince you to book your tickets now, there are also hundreds of beer and wine varieties, which means, there’s something for even those with the most discerning of palates. I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy this event many times; however, my experience this year was perhaps my favorite thus far.
I came to Florida to participate in the Walt Disney World College Program, a competitive internship where college students are given the opportunity to work for a number of months at the Most Magical Place on Earth. I had the good fortune, during my program, to live with some truly great people. We decided that we’d all get back together for Food and Wine. So, last weekend we drove to EPCOT and immersed ourselves in the beauty and culture of the festival.
EPCOT is divided into two unique sections, Future World and World Showcase. Future World is an attempt to honor what Walt Disney’s EPCOT was originally intended to be – hence the name Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. World Showcase is a sprawling horseshoe of culture. Eleven country pavilions encircle World Showcase Lagoon and walking through them gives you the sense that you really are globe trotting. World Showcase is the site of Food and Wine, but along with the regular eleven country line up (Mexico, Norway,China, Germany, Italy, USA, Japan, Morocco, France, The United Kingdom, and Canada) there are twenty eight participating cuisine choices. When we arrived, we were certainly overwhelmed. Not really having any game plan, we figured we might as well try a little bit of everything.
Following World Showcase’s curve to the right, we passed a pavilion new to this year’s festival, Craft Beers. It lived up to its name, offering eight inventive selections from which to choose. You have the option, when it comes to drinks, to purchase a 6oz, 12oz, or 22oz serving. I strongly recommend going with the 6oz option if you planning on doing a fair deal of sampling, trust me here I speak from experience. We continued around and ran into a Food and Wine staple, Greece. Please do yourself a favor and try the Spanakopita ($2.25.) You’ll love it. Spanakopita, or spinach pie, is a classic Greek dish consisting of a pastry shell filled with spinach, feta cheese, onions, egg, and seasonings. While it’s still not as good as my grandmother’s (who is not Greek), it remains a close second.
Our next stop was Ireland (if you know me at all you know there I’ll never pass up a chance to carouse with my fell Irishmen). Four Thousand pounds of lobster were used at the festival this year. I think I ate most of them personally. Ireland, which is finally beginning to embrace seafood as a legitimate dining option, featured an exquisitely presented and absolutely delicious Lobster and Scallop Fisherman’s Pie ($3.25). During my afternoon excursion, this was also the only place I opted for a 22oz beer ($11.75, I know, right!) It’s just that it’s a requirement when there’s Guinness behind the bar.
We continued around the world passing the International Gateway, which is the back entrance to EPOCT that leads to the Disney Boardwalk Hotel and Entertainment district. Walking into France, there was only one thing on all of our minds, pastries. We were distracted, however, when we saw a small group of people ahead all dressed in kilts and shirts that bore the phrase “3rd Annual Eat, Drink, and Repeat Tour.” Intrigued I ventured over to inquire about how the third year was going. Turned out, they were a family from Scotland who use the Food and Wine Festival as a family reunion each year. Naturally, I figured that since we had already concluded the Irish merrymaking we should simply continue it with the Scots.
Our group, considerably larger now, made our way though France in search of something light, fluffy, and containing far too many calories. However, seeing the word’s “Crème Brûlée” made me quickly change course. For those of you unfortunate enough to have never tried it, Crème Brûlée is simply the best dessert ever, period. Meaning “Burnt Cream” in french, it is indescribably good. The base is a rich custard, which is contrasted by a level of caramel. EPOCT’s Crème Brûlée was flavored with chocolate and topped with carmalized sugar. Honestly, I would have paid $1000 for it, but it was only $3.25, so I ate two.
We continued around and were headed toward the American Pavillion when Singapore caught my eye. Well, it was actually the menu outside Singapore that grabbed my attention, but nevertheless, I simply had to stop. Written under the drink section were the words “Tiger Beer………$5.50.” I was puzzled, a little scared, and extremely curious. Eventually curiosity (or rather peer pressure from the Scots) won out and I bought one. Somewhat reluctantly, and with a vague fear I’d somehow transform into Charlie Sheen, I drank it. Frankly, it wasn’t bad. It was actually quite good, but for the life of me I don’t know why. There were no discernible flavors and I haven’t been able to come up with anything to which it is. Which means it gets the same treatment that art does from me. I liked it, but don’t try and tell me why its good just let me enjoy it.
Returning to normalcy, we entered the American Pavillion. There was a Sugar Ray concert going on when we arrived (yes that Sugar Ray, from the 90’s. Yes, I thought it was too awesome to be true too.) It was part of the Eat to the Beat Concert Series that accompanies Food and Wine. Some of this years headliners were Boyz II Men, Hanson, and Air Supply. Deciding to switch back to something more my taste we got a sampling of Sam Adam’s Cherry Wheat ($3.50) and a Turkey Leg ($9.19) and watched the concert, feeling distinctly American, despite being surrounded by men in kilts.
Next up was Poland and the Golabki – Pork Stuffed Cabbage – which was neither as gross or euphemistic as it sounds. I mean really, if it’s only $2.75, I’ll try anything once. Making the final turn around the horse shoe, we spotted a pavilion that was new for 2011, Scandinavia. I didn’t drink anything from here, mostly because everything they had started with an “X” and if that’s not ominous foreshadowing, I don’t know what is. However, I was daring enough to try the Taste of Scandinavia (Cured Salmon, Herring, and Shrimp Salad, $4.00). Try the Herring at Your Own Risk – Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You!
I figured I like shrimp; I like salmon, so I’ll probably like herring. Long story short, I don’t like herring, but don’t let that stop you from trying it. Rounding out the day was Mexico. It is important to stipulate that Mexico is always the last place to go to in EPCOT. Why? Well it’s quite simple really, Mexico has tequila. We all enjoyed a couple of Margaritas (at $10 a glass they weren’t too overpriced) and decided to call it a day. Actually, that’s a lie. We didn’t call it a day; we went back around in the opposite direction and then we went around again. When I think of how much money I spent that day, well, let’s just say I don’t like to think about, so please don’t bring it up.
Our evening was capped off with Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, EPCOT’s nightly fireworks show over the World Showcase Lagoon. During the show, in the middle of the lake, sits a giant spinning globe covered with LED video screens. Videos of different natural events, animals, and environments are played on the globe throughout the show and it is truly beautiful to watch. Perhaps, it was the tequila, but I found myself thinking of how extraordinary the world we live in really is, then the globe exploded and fireworks shot out of it. (Don’t worry it’s supposed to do this.) After that all I could think of was how awesome fireworks are, but I had that one moment, so give me some credit.
Food and Wine will continue this year until November 13th, so if you have the chance definitely give it a look. If not the 17th annual festival will come around next fall and I can guarantee that I’ll be there, as I’m sure will my new be-kilted Scottish friends. It probably won’t be that hard to spot us, so make sure you stop by and say hello.