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Tasting the world: Experiencing the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

by Tt Shinkan The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte's editorial board. Imagine being able to sample warm chocolate pudding from Ireland and then walking over to India to try some Madras red curry. This sounds totally impossible, right? In hindsight it is, but at Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival, this impossible fantasy is a possible reality. Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival is an annual event starting in late August and runs until mid-November. Every year the dates change slightly, but 2018’s dates are August 30 to November 12. The festival celebrates the culinary diversity of food from around the world with 21 booths from different countries serving up dishes and drinks unique to that area. Additionally, there are another 21 food booths offering unique food items relating to cheese, chocolate, seafood, smoked meats and poutine, just to name a few. All of the booths are located around Epcot but you’ll find most of them, fittingly, around World Showcase. My sister's fall break landed on the same weekend as mine and my parents decided we should all travel to Walt Disney World for a small vacation. We’ve been to the festival before when I was a freshman in high school and my sister was in 7th grade, so we all knew it was time for us to return to our favorite Disney event. I also just turned 21 this year so I was very excited to try both the foods and adult beverages these countries had to offer. Okay, I was more excited for the food since I’m a huge foodie. We went to the festival twice. Once on our first night we were there and then once on our last day.  My dad is huge on smoking meats, so we obviously stopped at the “Flavors from Fire” booth. This booth played with the idea of fire. This meant the food was either cooked using fire or smoke or had a spicy taste to it. We tried the pork wings with a Korean BBQ and sesame seed glaze. I’ve had pork wings before, but these were, by far, the best pork wings I’ve ever had. They fell right off the bone and were juicy and flavorful. Other food items we tried were Greek nachos and spanakopita (spa-na-ko-pi-ta), which my grandmother makes all the time and is a personal favorite of mine, from Greece; crispy pork belly with black beans, tomato and onions and Moqueca (moo-kek-a)  which is a seafood stew from Brazil; liquid nitro chocolate-almond truffle with warm whiskey-caramel from a booth called Chocolate Studio; Kalua pork slider with sweet and sour DOLE  pineapple chutney and spicy mayonnaise and teriyaki-glazed SPAM hash with potatoes, peppers, onions and spicy mayonnaise from Hawai’i; Irish cheddar cheese and stout dip with Irish brown bread and warm chocolate pudding with Irish cream liqueur custard from Ireland; hummus fries with cucumber, tomato, onions and tzatziki sauce from Morocco; beef brisket poutine from a booth called Refreshment Port. How did all of these taste? Amazing! There were a few items I had to try while I was there. These items were drinks and food that I’ve always wanted to try but never had the chance to. The first one was a lobster roll. You might be thinking that this isn’t that adventurous and that I could get one anywhere. Well, first of all, I’ve always been iffy on trying lobster because I hated the way it was cooked, but after seeing numerous cooking shows and pictures of the famous New England sandwich, it started to seem more and more delicious. Second, living in Indiana, there isn’t a lot of great seafood places around. Chicago has a few, but that’s mostly lake perch or any fish that thrives in a freshwater lake. Lobster isn’t one of them. The American booth, Hops and Barley, had a New England lobster roll available. This was my absolute favorite food item I tried at the festival. The sandwich (or roll?) was full of flavor. The lobster was sweet and had a garlic taste. The mayonnaise had herbs and added an extra flavor profile that made me love this dish. I guess you could say, I was in Flavortown.  The other two items were drinks. The first was sake (SAH-kay) and the other was mead. I’m a huge fan of trying items that are exclusive to a place. Maybe that’s why I don’t have a favorite food. I love Philly cheesesteaks, Nashville hot chicken, pretty much anything Chicago churns out, so trying sake has been on my list of things to try. And now that I’m 21, I was finally able to try it. Sake is a Japanese rice wine made by fermenting rice. Unlike regular wine which has a sweeter taste, sake has a more bitter taste which reminded me of a top shelf whiskey. Both my dad and I enjoyed it since we like whiskey and bourbon but my mom wasn’t a huge fan. It’s an acquired taste that maybe a lot of people might not enjoy right way because of the bitter taste. I would have this again, but maybe just one glass. When I think of mead I think of vikings for some odd reason. Vikings and Norse mythology have always intrigued me so trying a drink that made me feel like a Norwegian viking was something I was all for. The drink is also a wine, but instead of using grapes, it uses honey so this drink is very sweet. A complete 180 from sake. When I purchased the drink from the Ireland booth, I was awed by how golden it was. The drink was as gold as, well, honey. The taste was unique. I was expecting it to taste sweeter than normal wine, but I wasn’t expecting the honey after taste. I really enjoyed this drink. So much so that I actually purchased another one the second day we were there. I highly recommend this drink to anyone who is looking for a unique drink to enjoy and feeling like a fierce viking warrior. I of course also recommend trying this drink if you are 21 and over and to always drink responsibly. That goes for any other drink I mentioned in this story. The festival is also known for something else besides food and that’s music. Live concerts to be exact. Disney books some notable acts, like Plain White T's, 38 Special, Baha Men, Boyz II Men, Billy Ocean, Mark Wills, Air Supply and many others. We were there for both Mark Wills and Air Supply’s concerts and both had something unique about them. Mark Wills is a country singer most recognizable with the song “19 Somethin.” Since I absolutely love country music, this concert was my favorite. He was high energy and played both slow and upbeat songs. Air Supply was also fun, but since soft rock isn’t my first choice in music, I didn’t enjoy it as much as Wills’ concert. However, it was still enjoyable. Actually, the number one thing that made this concert so enjoyable was the amount of people inside the small venue. Middle-aged women were standing up from their seats and dancing and singing along to the music. This is what I enjoyed most about this concert. The fact that this band can touch so many people with their music is amazing! The last detail about the festival I want to include is pretty cool. Epcot has this boat ride called “Living With The Land” which shows and explains to you how humans, plants and animals use this land to produce food and an ecosystem. Towards the end of the ride, the boat takes you into a greenhouse where Disney grows produce for their many on site restaurants and for the festival. Little signs were posted to let the riders know what type of produce it was, but some had a bigger sign with a picture of a Food and Wine item on it. This told us that this particular item was used as an ingredient in one of the many dishes found throughout the festival. I thought this was amazing and a Disney thing to do by utilizing their resources. Overall, the Food and Wine Festival is my favorite festival Disney puts on. I’ve been to the Flower and Garden Festival and that is also another amazing experience, but something about the Food and Wine Fest always makes me like it more. It might be because of the food, or how it’s in the fall or that I have the ability to try different foods from different countries I might never have the chance to visit. Whatever the reason may be, one thing is clear. This festival is an amazing experience that I believe everyone has to experience just once in their short lifetime. After all, who doesn’t love good food? 

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