Join us in welcoming guest author Rebecca Dolan! After sampling ALL of the vegetarian menu items at the 2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival, she’s sharing her review with us. Read on…
Vegetarian Food at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival
The offerings at this year’s Epcot International Food and Wine Festival may err on the meaty (or fishy) side of things, but there are a number of nods to vegetarians around the World Showcase Lagoon. The veg options may not be terribly exciting, but there are enough to keep herbivorous appetites at bay. After sampling all of the items conveniently marked with a green “V” on the Food and Wine Festival menus, we’ve reviewed both the entrees and desserts below.
Africa: The spinach and cheese paneer pocket was one of my favorite vegetarian noshes. Since it’s fried, it can be a tad heavy, and perhaps not the best on a scorching Florida afternoon. The golden flaky pastry exterior yields to a filling that’s much like the saag paneer you’d find at an Indian restaurant.
Cheese: I personally did not care for the almond crusted blue cheese soufflé, as it was a bit soggy. But, blue cheese lovers might enjoy it as a unique vessel by which to enjoy its pungent bite, which is cut by a dollop of fig jam on top.
The cheese booth’s other offering was a trio of (what else?) cheeses: Flagship Reserve Cheddar, La Bonne Vie Triple Crème Brie and Wijngaard Goats Gouda. It’s a pretty standard cheese board and didn’t disappoint.
Greece: What would a Greek booth be without spanikopita, or cheese- and spinach-stuffed phyllo pockets? Though a tad on the greasy side, they were plump with filling. A bit like Africa’s spinach pockets, this version is slightly tangy thanks to the use of feta rather than mellow paneer.
As advertised, the Taste of Greece is not vegetarian, due to the addition of calamari. However, nixing the squid renders the dish veggie-friendly. It’s one of the heartier options with generous scoops of hitipiti (whipped feta dip) and eggplant dip, plus olives and pita bread for scooping.
The griddled Greek cheese with pistachios and honey was the least impressive of Greece’s offerings. The lag time between cooking and service unfortunately gave it too much time to cool off, and therefore congeal. And, like the spanikopita, it was rather greasy.
I know this is one of AJ’s favorites, so if this dish is calling your name, you might try asking for a fresh batch to ensure it’s still melted.
Ireland: Ireland’s first vegetarian contribution is a Kerrygold cheese selection featuring Reserve Cheddar, Dubliner with Irish Stout, and Skellig; served with hearty brown bread, Kerrygold butter, and chutney on the side. Again, nothing to complain about here if you love cheese.
Japan: Japan’s youki tofu topped with miso sauce and edamame and served with grilled vegetables was the most disappointing of the bunch. It was nothing more than a plain, spongy brick of tofu plated aside steamed vegetables (of the frozen medley variety). Nothing to see here, folks.
Poland: Poland’s official vegetarian offering is its Zapiekanki, which is a slice of toasted bread topped with softened mushrooms and onions, with cheese and a squirt of spicy homemade ketchup. It may not be complicated, but this is a stick-to-your-ribs sort of dish.
According to the chefs at the Poland booth, everything about the potato pierogies with caramelized onions and sour cream is vegetarian, except for the addition of sliced kielbasa sausage. The sausage can easily be left off, but strict vegetarians should note that the sausage is cooked on the same griddle as the rest of the components. (Editor’s Note: Do I detect a Hidden Mickey in that dollop of sour cream?)
Scotland: And now for my favorite dish: the vegetarian haggis with neeps and tatties. (That’s rutabaga and mashed potatoes to the non Scots.) The thick slice of haggis is best likened to savory oatmeal studded with veg, featuring that pleasant chew that only perfectly-cooked steel cut oats can muster. The extra-creamy mashed potatoes on the side didn’t hurt anything either.
Terra: The Terra booth is the only one in the festival to make use of mock meat in its dishes. I don’t care for meat substitutes, but the chili Colorado with house-made chips and cashew cheese was a decent approximation for the real thing in both flavor and texture.
The cashew cheese didn’t taste like actual cheese, but it had a nice tang that cut the heavy chili spice. The homemade chips on the side will make you wish you could buy a whole bag.
Where the chili succeeded, the trick’n chick’n curry with basmati rice didn’t. The chick’n patty had a rubbery texture, and the spices in the curry sauce were too strong. Be warned: This one’s spicy!
Belgium: Though we weren’t able to get a proper photo, the potato and leek waffle with braised beef here is available vegetarian without the beef, according to a booth staffer.
The texture is much softer than what you would expect from a waffle, due to the potato mash in the batter. But, there’s enough seasoning in the waffle itself to help it stand on its own as a vegetarian choice.
Australia: Australia’s Pavlova is an interesting contrast in textures between the light, crunchy meringue and the dense, creamy custard. It’s just the right amount of sweet.
Belgium: For a more traditional take on its eponymous waffle, Belgium is serving up Belgian waffles with warm chocolate ganache or berry compote. It’s exactly what you expect a Belgian waffle to be — slightly sweet, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
China: The silky spun ice cream is the perfect antidote to a hot Orlando day. A cross between ice cream and ices, this refreshing dessert cools without being heavy on the stomach.
Dessert and Champagne: Two vegetarian options were available at this booth: a chocolate orange cupcake and a hazelnut chocolate cheesecake. The cheesecake was oddly bitter, but the cupcake was light and moist with a subtle orange flavor. It’s the intense sweetness of the icing, though, that makes this a great choice for the most devout sweet tooth.
France: The crème brûlée au chocolat au lait was a pretty standard example of the custard dish, made more luxurious by enriching the crème with chocolate. It’s a bit heavy, so I’d recommend sharing.
Germany: As someone who has never cared for cooked apple desserts, I’ll say the apple strudelwith Werther’s Original karamel and vanilla sauce is an exception. The apples were cooked to melting softness, and the addition of caramel sauce made this a great seasonal sweet. Watch out if you don’t like raisins, though.
Hops and Barley: Ocean Spray’s festival sponsorship extends to the Craisin bread pudding with Grand Marnier Anglaise, which is scooped in nice, healthy portions. Make sure to ask for extra Grand Marnier sauce.
Ireland: Do not leave Epcot without trying Ireland’s warm chocolate pudding with Bailey’s custard. This dessert is not pudding like most Americans would picture. Instead it’s a warm, gooey cake with a barely-set center that’s then drenched in a lightly boozy cream sauce. Imagine licking brownie batter while sipping on an Irish crème. Yes. It’s that good.
Italy: For dessert, it’s the cannoli al cioccolato, a mascarpone cream-filled, chocolate-dipped pastry shell. Major bonus points are awarded for a shatteringly crisp shell, which is difficult enough to find at a bakery, let alone out in the Florida humidity.
Mexico: There’s not much one can really say about rice pudding– you either like it or you don’t. This version tasted much like what you’d find at the grocery store.
Morocco: Baklava is another example of a dessert that’s not too sweet. This flaky pastry is layered with ground nuts and gains sweetness from soaking in honey, which also makes it pleasantly chewy. This is a solid option for those who can’t handle too much refined sugar.
Scotland: The Scottish banoffee tart with bananas, Scottish whisky toffee, Walkers shortbread crumbles and sweet cream looks like a neat package. But, break it open and out rushes sweet toffee sauce. So, it’s best to knife and fork this one. There are also sliced bananas in the tart’s center, so that makes it healthy, right?
Terra: Not one to break the streak of excellent chocolate cakes, Terra adds its chocolate cake with coconut mousse and passion fruit sauce to the mix. Anyone who loves cake but isn’t a fan of frosting should check this one out, as the scoop of coconut mousse atop this treat might be better than traditional icing. It still has the smooth, creamy texture, but is lightened by shreds of coconut meat.
For savories, the spinach and cheese paneer pocket and vegetarian haggis got top marks! And you won’t go wrong with many of the sweets!
Which vegetarian menu items look the most appetizing to you? Have you sampled any of these eats at this year’s Festival? Tell us in the comments below!
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