One of the great hidden treasures of the Animal Kingdom Lodge is the (free) opportunity to gain insight into the award winning restaurants at the resort: Boma, Jiko, and Sanaa. This review will focus on the Jiko and Boma tours.
A short tour begins every evening at 4:00pm at the Boma podium. As I said, it’s free, and open to all Disney guests as far as I can tell (we weren’t asked for our room keys, and I happened to be staying at the Yacht Club at the time).
The “tour” isn’t really a tour; you don’t get to go backstage, and you don’t get a thorough education on the cooking techniques or menu development. But just the opportunity to be guided through the restaurants, discuss the symbolism of the decor, and sample a few items is well worth the half hour of time you’ll spend.
We begin at Boma, which means “enclosure” or “wall” in Swahili, where our cultural guide explained the items that were on the menu that evening as she walked the group through the buffet line. Boma and Jiko were not yet open at this time, so the tour was quiet and free of the hustle and bustle of the typical buffet restaurant. Once we got to the soups, the guide ladeled a sample bowl (you get to choose!) for each member of the group. The favorites were the Corn and Chicken soup and the Butternut Squash soup. Unfortunately, they did not have the Mulligatawny out that night! We also had the chance to sample the famous Zebra Domes at the end of the buffet line.
From Boma, we headed into Jiko (Swahili for “The Cooking Place”). This section of the tour was much more interesting in my opinion. Our (new) guide discussed the decor of the restaurant first, and despite my having dined at Jiko many times before, I learned so much! Designed by Jeffrey Beers to mimic the colors and scenes from Disney’s The Lion King, here are just a few of the interesting decor points:
1. The rings around the columns represent the neck rings worn by the women of the Ndebele tribe of South Africa. You can see that each column has a varying number of rings, just like the women they represent.
2. The entire restaurant is watched over by the beautiful, stylized birds, which get smaller toward the back of the ceiling giving an interesting depth perspective. What I didn’t know was that the lighter designs in the wooden floor represent haystacks, and that these birds flying over the haystacks on your African farm represent good luck!
3. The back wall of the restaurant, representing the African sunset, slowly transforms from yellow to orange to deep red through your meal. Another truly interactive and interesting experience in Disney dining.
After our design discussion, we moved over to the onstage kitchen where salads and appetizers are prepared for guests. We were greeted with a serving of the restaurant’s most popular appetizer–the African breads and dips sampler–which was wonderful, of course (and oddly salty).
Our guide discussed the restaurant’s name: The Cooking Place, and indicated that we were seated at the cooking place at that moment. She also pointed out the domed bread ovens and the beautiful wine room (Jiko has the largest collection of South African wines the USA).
My tour companions were a great group of folks who had some good experience with the restaurant. We all discussed our favorite dishes–top of the list being the spiced ostrich filet appetizer, barbeque beef short ribs entree, and numerous desserts, including the pistachio creme brulee and, my favorite, the house-made lemon curd.
The tour was well worth the time, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting a few tastes of these restaurants (especially when I knew I wouldn’t be dining at them for a while). For anyone who’s a fan of Animal Kingdom Lodge or its restaurants, definitely stop by the next time you’re in the World for the culinary tour.