The 2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival begins in two weeks, adding plenty of exciting new flavors alongside returning fan favorites. Yesterday I was invited to sample a variety of the newcomers during a private event tucked away in The Living Seas lounge.
Before getting to my thoughts on the delicious new dishes, it’s worth noting that any opportunity to enter The Living Seas lounge should not be missed. It’s like stepping into a time machine back to the 1980s, long before Nemo and friends moved in to the pavilion, complete with fabric-covered walls and ample appearances of a certain classic Epcot symbol.
Inside, my wife / videographer Michelle and I were welcomed with glasses of Carnaval Moscato Sparkling White Wine from Brazil, a country not normally known for its wine. This semi-sweet drink was brought in especially for the Food and Wine Festival and is sure to be a hit for those looking for something cool and refreshing that’s not quite dessert, but sweet enough to almost get there.
From there, introductions were given by festival project manager Michael Jenner, Epcot executive chef Jens Dahlmann, and festival planner Marianne Hunnel, each introducing the variety of flavors available for tasting, almost all new for 2013.
Missing from the sampling was the vegetarian haggis from this year’s new Scotland dishes, not quite ready to serve yet. But Dahlmann did note that the culinary team worked with Scottish officials to develop this version of haggis, free of the internal organs often associated with it, instead describing it as a “grainy vegetable patty” but “really, really good.”
What was served up was a selection of food and drinks that are among the best the popular festival has had to offer.
Video: 2013 Epcot Food & Wine Festival preview with new dishes at Walt Disney World
From the newly reinvented Brazil marketplace returning this year, both Jennfer and Dahlmann believe one of the sure-fire favorites will be the Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans, Avocado, Onions and Cilantro - and I agree. It’s a very technical dish, prepared in many steps over the course of three days.
The pork belly is fork tender and not as fatty as most servings of this meat. It doesn’t quite melt in the mouth but instead has the texture of a denser pulled pork with a great moist grilled flavor. The guacamole served with isn’t anything special but the black beans underneath are rich and complement the pork well.
From the South Korea marketplace, my personal favorite of the day’s samples was the new Kimchi Dog with Spicy Mustard Sauce, a brilliant combination of textures and flavors.
A bite first offers a crisp coldness from the kimchi, followed by a rich heartiness of the warm hot dog, then followed by a strong heat coming in the back of the mouth creeping up from the mustard sauce. Hunnel recommends pairing it with Jinro Chamisul Soju, a 20% alcoholic beverage that cuts right through the spice.
The South Africa marketplace has simply become Africa this year, with a new dish - Berbere Style Beef with Onions, Jalapenos, Tomato, Okra and Pap. It’s not a particularly spectacular cut of beef, a bit on the chewy side, but when combined with the rich tomato-based sauce and sweet, creamy corn meal, all the flavors meld well together. It’s not a favorite of mine, but Michelle enjoyed it more.
From the Hops & Barley marketplace, Griddled Lobster Tail with Garlic Herb Butter tastes exactly as it sounds, particularly rich in its sauce.
Among the new desserts this year, fans of Disney’s famous Pineapple Dole Whip are going to devour the new Orange Dole Whip available non-alcoholic or, even better, with Creme de Cacao White. It’s far better than last year’s Dole Whip topped with spiced rum, as the white chocolate liqueur perfectly perfectly compliments the tangy citrus flavors. It’s a creamy delight in every bite that I will definitely be eating regularly.
At the Desserts and Champagne marketplace, this year’s Trio of Desserts are Cherry Pistachio Mousse, Chocolate/Orange Cupcake and Hazelnut Cheesecake, all of which are excellent in entirely different ways. The mousse is smooth and barely sweet, the cheesecake a bit more rich, and the cupcake bold, moist, and very sugary - in a good way.
The new Scottish Banoffee Tart is great for banana lovers only, with the creamy banana filling in the center dominating over the crumbly, somewhat gritty and dry chocolate shell.
And lastly the new frozen S’Mores drink looks like a milkshake or smoothie but is definitely a drink designed for enjoying through a straw. It’s light, with just a little texture from finely blended ice, packing perfect s’mores flavor in every sip.
Since the haggis wasn’t ready for the event, another vegetarian dish was served in its place, new to last year’s festival. From the Terra Marketplace, returning this year, the Trick’n Chick’n Curry with Basmati Rice is definitely a tricky dish. Its Gardein chick’n breast is soy bean based with no actual chicken - but it sure looks, feels, and tastes like the real thing. And the expertly prepared curry sauce elevates it to another level.
In addition to all the food and drink samples, Disney was showing off new festival merchandise this year, including Mickey ears with a tiny chef’s hat and a fun little chef sculpture bobbling on top of Spaceship Earth.
The 18th Epcot International Food & Wine Festival begins on September 27, continuing daily around the World Showcase through November 11, featuring these and many more interesting and unique flavors from cultures around the world, each worth sampling in small plates for a small price, requiring multiple trips to fully enjoy.
More photos from the 2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival preview: