I recently had a chance to stop by Epcot and check in on the 2023 International Food & Wine Festival, which started July 27 and continues through Nov. 18. I found it rather muted and unexciting; dull, even.
But then, it has been since the Covid pandemic forced a watered down version in 2020 in what the organizers dubbed “A Taste of Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival” and what I called a festivalette. Gone were the cooking demonstrations, the wine tasting seminars conducted by visiting vintners, the food and beverage pairing luncheons and dinners, and most missed, the weekly Party for the Senses extravaganzas inside the World Showplace.
All that was left was the collection of food kiosks, global marketplaces in the Epcot lexicon, ringing the central lagoon. Which made sense – they were conducive to outdoor distancing during the ongoing pandemic.
But now, in 2023, while Covid hasn’t gone away and likely never will, we know more about transmission, prevention and gathering indoors more safely, we’re still stuck with A Taste of…even though those words are no longer used.
Perhaps the Disney culineers are just waiting for the currently-being-constructed Festival Center to be completed before bringing back the full-blown version. Or maybe they realized that the other Epcot events – Festival of the Arts and Flower and Garden Festival, which also feature food kiosks – do fine without all the extras. Pity, because the International Food & Wine Festival, which begat the others, is now indistinguishable.
So, anyway, I stopped by the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, did a loop around the World Showcase, and sampled a few things.
A highlight was the Coffee Barbecued Beef from the Kenya marketplace, a beef tenderloin in an earthy reduction sauce served on a sweet potato-corn mealie pap (basically grits) with kachumbari, a Kenyan tomato and onion slaw.
Although the Flavors of America marketplace was located at the American Adventure pavilion, its menu was meant to represent more than the America with United States in its name. (Why an Italian hot beef sandwich was included in the mix is a curiosity.)
I had a couple of bites of the hot beef sandwich, which had thinly sliced beef in a pocket roll with giardiniera and a cup of jus for dipping. Too much bread.
I liked the chilaquiles – corn tortilla chips and pieces of chicken covered with salsa verde and cilantro-lime crema and topped with a nicely cooked poached egg (plus some crumbled queso fresco). A pleasant glop.
Not so pleasant: the “freshly baked” carrot cake. Actually, carrot cake should be in quotes, too, because there wasn’t anything carroty about it at all. It was more like a spice cake, a very dry spice cake, covered in a cream cheese icing as though someone were trying to hide the evidence. I found myself taking an extra bite of the chilaquiles just to get the taste of the cake out of my mouth.
A much better cake can be found at the Australia marketplace. There you’ll find the nationally popular lamington, a yellow cake with a raspberry vein and icing dipped in chocolate and coconut. Moist.
Even though I visited seven weeks after the festival opened, several marketplaces still weren’t open yet. Some of the items sounded interesting, but I don’t see myself making a special trip back to try them.
Maybe next year.