Each year, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival highlights a particular culture not just with its marketplace offerings, but also special events, such as a themed dinner. This year, Puerto Rico was chosen for that honor.
Although the U.S. Commonwealth has been part of the festival in the past, Chef Jens Dahlmann, Epcot's executive chef, said that it was selected this year because of its ties to many of Walt Disney World's guests.
"As you know, we have a very large base of Puerto Rican customers. There is a lot of passion around it. They are very proud of their culture," he said. "We hope to make a splash with the whole Puerto Rican experience."
I have to confess my own excitement about the return of the Puerto Rico kiosk to the festival. I lived on the island for several years as a child, so I have fond memories of my time there and look forward to a culinary trip down memory lane.
AllEars.Net founder Deb Wills, AllEars.Net photographer Linda Eckwerth and I attended the Tables in Wonderland preview for the 2014 festival, and we were able to taste some of the dishes that Chef Jens has prepared for the popular 53-day event.
At the Puerto Rico marketplace, there will be four foods to sample. We tried the Carne Guisada con Arroz Blanco (Slow Braised Beef with Puerto Rican Grown Rice). Of the various courses, it was my favorite, which is no surprise given my familiarity with the island's flavors. Deb agreed with me, saying, "The braised beef dish from Puerto Rico was very good, the meat ever so tender. I will try this again." Still, Linda said that although the meat was tender, she thought the dish lacked flavor.
The Carne Guisada was paired with a sangria and a Medalla light beer. I'm not really a beer drinker, so I tried the Gasolina Sangriiia rum punch, which was very smooth. If you like sweet drinks, this one is for you.
Chef Marianne Hunnel, content development manager of the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, mentioned that there will be a third drink offered at the Puerto Rico marketplace: Ponce de Leon Lemonade. It will be a frozen drink made with lemonade and grapefruit juice, and adults have the option to add Puerto Rican rum.
During the reception, Deb, Linda and I also sampled the Sweet Corn Sorullitos with Mayo Ketchup that will be served at the Puerto Rico kiosk. These corn fritters will be paired with fried cheese balls and served in paper cups, a representation of the "frituras," or fried foods, sold along the beaches in Puerto Rico. We all enjoyed the crispy corn fritters. Their mild flavor paired with mayo ketchup that comes in a squeezable tube that is sure to be a hit with adults and kids alike.
The other two offerings at the Puerto Rico booth will be a conch salad and flancocho. Flancocho is an island favorite that combines flan and cake ingredients for a delicious dessert.
Chef Jens describes the salad this way: "What I really love is the conch salad -- beautiful Caribbean conch chopped in small pieces with onions and sweet peppers and lemon served in a paper cone over rice. Just delicious."
For those who would like to be immersed in the Puerto Rican culture, Epcot is hosting "Experience Puerto Rico -- The All Star Island" on the opening weekend of the festival. The two-and-a-half-hour dinner will feature authentic cuisine and entertainment. Plus, there will be a selection of beverages, including handcrafted cocktails made from Puerto Rico's world-renowned rum brands. The dinner takes place from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Sept. 20. It costs $99 plus tax per person, gratuity included.
Tickets for the dinner go on sale to the general public at 7 a.m. July 31. Call 407-WDW-FEST (939-3378).
DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at the Tables in Wonderland event. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.
The previous post in this blog was First Look: 2014 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.
The next post in this blog is Free, family friendly fun at this weekend's Tour de Turtles kickoff.