For fans of the fare at Walt Disney World's Epcot, it's the most wonderful time of the year.
Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival is back. And since the delicious fun lasts more than four months this year, there's a good chance your upcoming trip to Walt Disney World will lead you to the popular festival, which is included in park admission and features food and beverage booths that represent countries like Brazil, Germany and Mexico, in addition to other gourmet bites and sips throughout the park. (Note: There is an additional fee for food and beverage items.)
Now through Nov. 20, 2021, Epcot guests can stroll through the park tasting flavors from around the world. And with more than 200 options, ranging from spicy Australian bush berry shrimp to an Italian margarita (made with limoncello and tequila), it's important to have a game plan before hopping off the monorail.
"We're going to give you a world of flavor," chef Courtney Jackson, a chef at Walt Disney World Resort, told me. "In each country, we want to showcase the culture, cuisine and cooking styles. We want to be able to make those who come from that culture or country proud every time."
On a recent visit to the International Food and Wine Festival, I tasted my way around the World Showcase, and came up with my 9 favorite festival items that are a must-eat when visiting the yearly Epcot event.
Here are items that kept me coming back for another bite: even when I was as stuffed as Remy the rat's gluttonous brother, Emile.
1. Spicy Beef Pho
The flavorful broth in this Vietnamese dish was irresistibly salty and savory. Everything about the soup was satisfying, from the umami flavors of the shaved beef and enoki mushrooms to the kick the dish got from the sliced Fresno chiles. $5.50 at The Noodle Exchange.
2. Shimmering Strawberry Soft Serve
What's not to love about a pink soft-serve ice cream cone, topped with pink sugar and rainbow sprinkles? This strawberry treat was light and cool, and perfect for a midday break in the shade. A fellow journalist friend commented that it tasted even more delicious because she was alone and didn't have to share it with her kids. $5.25 at Shimmering Sips.
3. Braised Beef Poutine
I've never had bad poutine at Epcot. But this braised beef poutine, available near the Canada pavilion at Refreshment Port, was next-level delicious. Topped with a Boursin cheese sauce, cheese curds, gherkin relish and chunks of tender braised beef, these fries are a treat worth splurging on. $9.50 at Refreshment Port.
4. Le Cellier Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon
If you don't know about the juicy steaks served at the Canada pavilion's Le Cellier restaurant, you're missing out. And while those steaks can be pricy in Le Cellier's sit-down atmosphere, this festival classic is a fantastic way to try a tender filet mignon on-the-go for less than $9. Served with a truffle butter sauce, this mouthwatering steak is a must-grab during the Food and Wine Festival. $8.75 at Canada booth.
5. Wild Mushroom and Truffle Tart
This surprisingly delicious mushroom tart was not on my radar as a possible festival favorite. However, it was love at first bite once I dug into the flaky, buttery pastry and tasted the mushrooms, Gruyere and créme fraîche that combine to make this savory dish. $5.00 at Rotunda Bistro.
6. Spicy Githeri
Githeri is a Kenyan meal made by boiling maize and a mixture of beans together — and this spicy version packs a major flavor punch. In fact, this dish, which is available at the Refreshment Outpost and served over a medley of ancient grains, was one of the most flavorful dishes I tried all day. Another bonus: It's less than $5. $4.75 at Refreshment Outpost.
7. Crispy Pig Ear Salad
I'd be lying if I didn't admit I was nervous to eat pig ears. But once I took a bite of this savory, summery dish, I was a believer. Crispy pig ear tops a salad made from fire-roasted tomatillo sauce, pickled red onions, queso fresco, roasted corn salsa and avocado cream to make a flavorful salad perfect for hot days in the World Showcase. $5.25 at The Swanky Saucy Swine.
8. Teriyaki-Glazed Spam Hash
Don't sleep on Spam! This tasty hash, made with potatoes and Hawaii's favorite canned meat, contains onions and peppers and is topped with a spicy mayonnaise. By the time I reached this booth, I was hitting a wall, but I powered through to take bite after bite of this salty, spicy dish. $4.50 at Hawai'i.
9. Candy Jar Donut
You'll probably want to split this massive, chocolaty doughnut with friends (or not — not judgment!). Iced with chocolate frosting and topped with mini M&M's, Snickers and Twix, this sugar-rush-inducing treat was one of my favorite bites of the day. While the toppings are super sweet, the doughnut itself is a bit more savory, perfectly blending with the chocolate to make a dessert even this non-sweet-eater can get behind. $5.00 at Donut Box.