Sunday, November 24, 2013

Guest Post A'Comin'

TofuForBrains contacted me through this blog a while ago (I'm atrocious with estimating time, so it might have been three years ago - it might have been twenty-seven... there's no way to say for certain)... anyway, she'd written to me once again this fall (I'm pretty sure to rub my nose in the fact that she was heading to Disney this November yet again, not realizing that my family too had a trip booked for the same time - HA!). As it happened, as if by some celestial alignment, she was to arrive at Disney on the last day of our trip. Thankfully things fell into place and we were able to meet up for a few hours of fun (bittersweet as those last few hours in the Magic Kingdom always are), riding the newly holiday-themed "Jingle Cruise", enjoying a tropical serenade in the Enchanted Tiki Room, and watching the Wishes fireworks from the new FastPass+ viewing section in the Rose Garden (a pretty amazing spot that anyone with a MagicBand really needs to look into!).

Not to get off topic, but I forgot to mention it in my last post. With the MagicBand you can book FastPass+s not only for rides, but for the Illuminations and Wishes fireworks, as well as for the daytime MK parade and the Main Street Electric Parade. The viewing for all of these is top notch, you only have to arrive 30-10 minutes before they begin rather than staking out your spot hours ahead, and you're in a reserved section with relatively few other people crowding you in! Definitely take advantage of this while it's available. Technically they're in the testing phase, so some of these features may not be permanent.

Anyway, back on track.

Since TFB is vegan and extremely Disney-knowledgeable I asked her if she would like to contribute a guest post to the blog. She was kind enough to oblige, and the following is her fantastic and incredibly insightful and helpful account of her trip



A Guest Post by TofuForBrains

Hi-ho, TofuForBrains here.  I’m doubly-delighted to have the opportunity to guest-post on Vegan Satori’s blog: Delighted because he asked me to do it a while ago and I’m finally getting around to it; and delighted because it means I’ve been to Walt Disney World recently and ate things worthy of the posting!  These pics represent an amalgamation of delicacies from two conferences I attended in the WDW vicinity this fall.

Now, as you’ve probably gleaned from Vegan Satori’s blog, WDW has become a heck of a lot more vegan-friendly and vegan-aware of late than it used to be. Many of the table-service places have added vegan dishes to their regular menus, and many others can easily modify existing dishes to leave off extraneous non-vegan ingredients.  The counter-service places will send out a manager without even blinking, mark your order as an “allergy,” and swiftly ensure that there is no grubby cross-contamination in your grub.  Some places even have dedicated “allergy fryers”—just ask whether they also fry chicken along with the fries.  Cosmic Ray’s and Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Inn and Café in Magic Kingdom both promise vegan-friendly French fries.  When that isn’t possible, the restaurants will sometimes microwave or bake fries and veggie burgers for guests who ask nicely.

Because word of the best vegan delicacies spreads fast, some of my meals duplicated the ones VS has already described (including every vegan dish at the Food & Wine Festival) and I’ve mostly skipped them to avoid redundancy here.  But I can vouch for the crackerless chili at Columbia Harbour House, the wild-berry sorbet at L’Artisans des Glaces, the quinoa hockey puck and French salad at Be Our Guest, the tamarind not-beef at Sunshine Seasons, the veggie burger at Cosmic Ray’s (I leave off the bun and pile on the veggies), and pretty much anything at DTD BabyCakes NYC.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

By far, my favorite place for vegan food at WDW is at Animal Kingdom Lodge. While sadly the quality and vegebility of Boma has fallen since the long-past days of Chef T.J.’s tenure there, both Sanaa and Jiko have their own vegan menus.  In addition to being gorgeously-rendered and boasting a museum’s worth of African crafts and artwork, the Lodge is home to dozens of animals who roam during the day on 18 acres of savanna.  It’s a great opportunity to commune with zebras, antelope, giraffes, ostriches, Ankole cattle, and crowned cranes.  Looking into the eyes of these (mostly) gentle creatures helps remind me why I’m a vegan, and offers the chance for non-veggies to get to know our nonhuman friends a bit better.  (Some vegans take issue with the fact that technically animals are being used for human entertainment at Animal Kingdom and Animal Kingdom Lodge.  I can respect that viewpoint, but personally I feel OK about it.  No balloons or plastic straws are allowed at the resort.  The animals are extremely-well-cared for, have lots of room to roam, are called to an indoor shelter at night where they receive warmth and medical attention, and have protection from natural predators.  I also think education and exposure help to remove the barriers that separate “us” from “them,” and remind us that animals are sentient creatures with their own whims, quirks, and needs.  But enough soapboxing…on to the food!)

Sanaa is my very favorite dining locale at WDW.  It’s a bit out of the way in its location at Kidani Village, and many people don’t know it’s there.  If you can score a table near the windows and it’s still light out, you can watch the animals eat while they watch you eat.  It’s the Circle of Dining.

I ate here on both of my trips.  Sanaa boasts an entire vegan menu, including appetizers, sides, and dessert.  I really enjoy getting the stew duo.  The dahl is fantastic; the greens with tomatoes are pretty good.  I expected the vegetable wot to be a traditional, spicy Ethiopian stew based upon its name, but it wound up being more like ratatouille (which I don’t particularly enjoy).  The stews come with a choice of basmati rice or a five-grain blend, though the latter is not listed on the vegan menu because the grains are produced on shared equipment with milk.  (Isn’t that thoughtful of them?) 

Dessert at both trips was the green bamboo rice pudding in coconut milk, which has a flavor somewhat reminiscent of green tea and which comes with a delightful, chutney-like mango-papaya compote.  If you enjoy bamboo rice, you can sometimes find a packet to take home at Mickey’s Pantry in Downtown Disney.

I ate at Jiko: The Cooking Place on my most recent trip.  This is the most upscale restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge, with a full wine menu and a gull-dotted “sunset wall” that changes colors as you dine. Luckily, I was accompanied by a fellow vegan who was just as indecisive as I and who therefore was very glad to split everything with me in order to sample a greater variety of dishes.  Sadly, we neglected to take a picture of the vegan menu; confusingly, there was one item containing honey on this menu.  We were told that the house bread was vegan, particularly when served with olive oil as it was here.  Apparently terrified that we would not ingest enough carbohydrates, we also ordered one of the flatbreads.  There were several choices here, but we went for the spicy “kitfo” with vegan beef, arugula, and peppers.  Our choices for main dishes were the maize-encrusted seitan and the jerk tofu with a coconut curry sauce and vegetables-of-the-moment.  

For dessert, we restrained ourselves and split one order of the delectable coconut panna cotta (gelled with agar-agar).  After all, we had to save room for cupcakes at BabyCakes later.  It was all terrific, but I think if I had to choose one main dish to order next time, it would be the piquant jerk ‘fu.  The coconut sauce was incrediblicious.

Animal Kingdom

It always struck me as odd that a park so dedicated to conservation and a message of interspecies interconnectedness had so few vegan options for so long.  Fortunately, that has begun to change.  On my last trip, I stopped by the Garden Kiosk near the Tree of Life.  You can see from the menu that there are many allergy-friendly options here, including several baked goods from DTD BabyCakes NYC.  I sampled the chocolate-chip cookie and the blondies, but skipped the mini-cupcakes because they contained coffee.  (It’s vegan, but I’m allergic.)  I was also impressed that they had knowledgeable Cast Members there who could answer questions about dietary options throughout the park, and a pictorial ingredient binder.  This little outpost is a boon for vegans as well as vegetarians and those who observe gluten-free or other restricted diets.

I also had to stop by Mr. Kamal’s, a little cart in Asia that has recently been re-themed as vegetarian.  The day I visited, the staff seemed to be having a lot of trouble keeping up with the orders, and they had run out of the Asian noodle salad that I was hoping to try.  Undeterred, I sampled the falafel.  I was told that everything at this cart is vegan except for the tzatziki (yogurt) sauce.

I always enjoy the safari ride as a great opportunity to meet some lovable animal characters.  One never knows what—or whom—to expect on this ride.  In the early fall, I met this rhino who thought he was a puppy as he gleefully rolled in the mud. 


By far my favorite place to be at Walt Disney World, or pretty much anywhere, Epcot has also been working to expand its vegan options.  I will spare you a full reposting of the delectable Food & Wine options I tried, since they were identical to those VS has already posted, but I’ll note that the Ghirardelli exhibit, From Bean to Bar, had one vegan bar (the 70% dark chocolate).  They were sampling the milk-chocolate squares, but were kind enough to get me a dark-chocolate square upon request.  The edible chocolate art was not vegan, but it was fun to ogle.  Ocean Spray sponsored a garnet-hued cranberry bog, and gave out copious free packets of Craisins.  (I was there on the last day of the Festival, so I came home with an awful lot of Craisins from employees desperate to empty their stashes.)   

I took a photo of the Terra offerings, including my meal of Trick’n Chicken Curry, watermelon juice, and Colorado Chili.

Sunshine Seasons at the Land Pavilion has fewer vegan options than its grab-and-go case has featured in the past.  One of my favorites, the cherry-almond-ginger couscous, was nowhere to be found on either trip.  The tamarind “beef” at the wok station kind of made up for it, though.  It was delicious, and it was thoughtfully placed behind all of the meat options so that no meat bits would fall into it.  (There is also a non-vegan tamarind beef, but it can be differentiated by the broccoli contained therein.)  Vegan snack options abound: I found Enjoy Life chocolate-chip cookies by the single serving or box; grapes; apples; carrots; questionably-vegan gels (kosher, and with no obvious animal ingredients); and the barbeque chips that Disney has so thoughtfully labeled with a big “V” for “vegan.”

On my first trip, I ate at Coral Reef and got a lovely presentation of the chick’n with forbidden rice and grilled veggies.  For those of you concerned about shared cooking surfaces, I was told that the grill is thoroughly cleaned each night and the veggies are grilled alone first thing in the morning.  The omnivores at the next table over were very interested in my meal.  (I still don’t understand how you can stare at the fish while you eat the fish.  Guess who goin’ be on de plate, indeed.)

The newish restaurant in Fake Mexico, La Hacienda de San Angel, had no trouble accommodating a vegan.  Unfortunately, I was avoiding tomatoes, onions, and spices on my visit there as I recovered from an illness; the chef was able to provide me with some house-made corn tortillas decked out with spinach, corn, red cabbage, and avocados.  (The beans were vegan but contained tomatoes and onions.  I’ll have to go back there and try them next time.)  The staff were really nice to me—they gave me a place to charge my phone, and they provided good shelter from the monsoon-like rainstorm that raged outside the restaurant that day.

Fake Japan is home to many vegan-friendly treats.  The edamame and kaki-gori are always good at the Kabuki kiosk between the American Adventure pavilion and the beginning of the Japan pavilion.  I try not to think too hard about the artificial nature of the colors in the kaki-gori; I always get rainbow-flavor with cherry (instead of the default strawberry), honeydew, and tangerine syrup.  Skip the condensed moo-milk and you’ll be fine.

I also often find good treats in the shops of the Showcase, including Mitsukoshi in Japan.  I like to buy nanami togarashi (Japanese 7-spice), which is inexplicably cheaper at WDW than it is at my local Asian market, and which is magic on udon noodles (Vegan YumYum has a great recipe for 7-spice udon with Brussels sprouts and carrots).  I also enjoy the citrus candies, featuring yuzu and other unique Japanese citrus flavors.  Botan rice candy is good and comes wrapped in rice paper (edible) along with a colorful sticker (inedible, as far as I know).  In Fake U.K., I discovered some Ginger Nuts which are actually cookies and actually rather tasty.  You can also procure Branston pickle, though I prefer to get this closer to home, tea, and some Kipling’s tarts that appeared to be vegan (but that were prohibitively pricey for me).  I have found vegan salmiak on past trips to Fake Norway.  For the uninitiated, salmiak is a kind of licorice peculiar to Scandanavian regions and flavored with an ammonium chloride additive that lends it the taste of slightly-briny floor wax.  Somehow, it’s so bad it’s good.  Ersatz Germany’s caramel shop carries Mamba, a Starburst-like candy that is labeled vegan right on the packaging.  There are some overly-salty potato sticks in the nearby food shop that are also apparently vegan, in case you need something to accompany your artificially-butter-flavored German-Canadian pretzel from the bier cart and your Ritter marzipan chocolate.

I also visited L’artisans des Glaces, the new ice cream parlor in Faux France.  I couldn’t help but share this pic of the wild berry sorbet, even though VS has already posted his, because it’s so darn appealing.  I actually liked the pomegranate, which I tried on my first trip.  It was creamy and a little tart.  Plus, it provoked a discussion in French with an exchange student working in the gift shop; she wasn’t sure about the French word for “pomegranate.”  (It’s “grenade,” hence grenadine.)

Magic Kingdom

At the suggestion of a friend, I dined at the Liberty Tree Tavern at lunchtime one day.  There is a vegan dish just sitting there on the menu for all to see—a quinoa-potato burger, breaded with egg-replacer and served with your choice of fruit or sweet-potato fries.  I found the taste rather like the interior of a samosa, and endeavored not to think too hard about the carb-laden consequences of eating a dish that contained breading, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and a bun.  (Does the pickle count as a vegetable?)

I also braved the heavy stench of meat at Gaston’s Tavern in order to sample the LeFou’s Brew, pictured here in adorable souvenir tankard.  (Note for the thrifty: you can order the drink sans souvenir cup for a little less than half the price of the full presentation.)  This concoction of Mott’s apple juice, Monin’s toasted-marshmallow syrup, and FOMZ! mango-passionfruit topping is surprisingly addictive, and I found myself imbibing it many times during my trip.  Let’s just hope Gaston isn’t especially good at expectorating in the drinks. 

Disney’s Pop Century Resort

The food court at Everything Pop! has at least one vegan item on the regular menu.  It’s a bizarre Chinese-Italian stir-fry of vegetables with marinara sauce served over white rice.  I asked for mine stir-fried in a little soy sauce instead, and the chef obliged.

I have gotten vegan Pop! waffles here in the past, although not on this trip.  I’ve heard good things about the food court at The Art of Animation for vegans, but I didn’t manage to make it over there on either trip.

Disney’s BoardWalk Resort

Chef Cat Cora’s Kouzzina is a favorite stop of mine on Epcot and Hollywood Studios days, as this restaurant can be reached after an 8-minute walk from the International Gateway (or a short boat ride for those with tired toes).  There are many appetizers on the menu that are vegan as they stand or can easily be veganized, including the grape leaves, the escarole with garlic, the Brussels sprouts with capers, the broccolini, and the gigante beans in tomato sauce.  If you prefer a piping-hot entrée, the tomato-based briami isn’t bad.  The fresh donuts (really more like donut holes) used to be vegan here if you skipped the drizzle of honey at the end and subbed in some raspberry sauce, but they weren’t offered to me on this trip.  Like most restaurants at the World, sorbets are always an option.  On this trip, I enjoyed dipping some of the house bread in a spicy olive oil, sampling the olives from the appetizer plate, and ordering a giant plate of mixed greens (since I had eaten park popcorn for breakfast and was generally feeling under-vitamined that day).

Disney’s Contemporary Resort

One of my conferences was at the Contemporary, or (as I like to call it) the Retrotemporary, since like Tomorrowland it serves to depict the future from 40 years ago.  (Otherwise known as “the past.”)  Let’s not speak much of the catering service there—it was truly dreadful and the kitchen staff had very little understanding of what constitutes vegan food (although they did find some Follow Your Heart mozzarella to throw on my salad).  They generally had a lot of trouble handling special dietary requests, and (among other disasters) they provided pre-packaged cookies and croutons made with eggs, milk, and gluten to colleagues with celiac and vegans alike.  The restaurants are operated separately, and like the rest of the parks and resorts at WDW, they are usually good at handling vegan requests.

I scheduled one early breakfast at The Wave, where I requested Mickey waffles with fruit compote and an order of home fries.  I was disappointed in the waffles, which were quite undercooked and gummy (made from the gluten-free mix).  They had some vegan  bottled smoothies on the menu, but were unable to locate the kind I requested before I had to head up to my conference.  The tofu I received was pretty tasty, if a little over-salted.

Another night, I went up to the newly-refurbished California Grill for a quick dinner in the lounge.  Reservations at this place are quite popular due to the nighttime view of the Magic Kingdom and spectacular perspective on the fireworks.  Most people don’t know that a table can be had in the lounge without a reservation, and that vegan sushi is a very affordable and quick dinner here ($15 gets you a big plate and the same view seen by the people with “real” tables).  The sushi is provided in soy wrappers rather than nori.  Mine was made with a combination of Asian pear, cucumber, colored bell peppers, and a few other veggies.

I managed a stop at the Contemporary Gingerbread Display before I left.  The deluxe resorts at Disney compete to make elaborate (though un-vegan) scenes out of gingerbread and other edibles during the holiday season, and some of them host gingerbread shops.  I was quite pleased to find a couple of vegan treats, including this Toastie and a vegan gingerbread man, at the Contemporary’s shop.

And with that, I’ll wrap up my guest post with a contented pat of the stomach.  Thanks to my gracious host, Vegan Satori, for the chance to share my experiences here on his blog!  I leave you with my general rules for vegan dining at WDW:
      1)  As the Russian proverb goes, “Trust, but verify.”  Ingredients change all the time at WDW.  If you’re at a counter-service place, ask to see the ingredient book and mention you have a special dietary request.  Don’t assume that a chef or server understands veganism the same way you do.   If you avoid honey, confectioner’s glaze, shared cooking surfaces, and mysterious “enzymes” in your baked goods, make sure to mention it.  Most counter-service restaurants will permit you to inspect the ingredients and decide for yourself.
            2)  Be creative.  If a sandwich normally comes with non-vegan bread but is otherwise vegan-friendly, ask if you can have an extra serving of veggies instead of the bread.  See if there are other ingredients available from different dishes at the same location to boost the content of a salad that is a little too boring once all the non-veg stuff has been left off.  Use the toppings-bar as your palette.
      3)  At table-service restaurants, tell everyone what you need.  Mention to the person who seats you and to your server any special requirements that you have. If you’d like to speak with a chef, this can generally be arranged with very little muss or fuss (the only place I’ve ever been given the stink-eye about this is at California Grill, even sitting at a reserved table).
      4)  Look out for some of the buffets, where dishes are not prepared according to individual specifications and where staff may be less knowledgeable about allergens and undesirables.  My luck at Tusker House and Boma has been less outstanding than Vegan Satori’s; I once had a chef come out and walk me through the buffet, only to learn that he misinformed me about the presence of butter and honey in some of the dishes.  (Luckily, I’m suspicious by nature, and I confirmed with another server since I had eaten there before.)  If you have a true allergy or an intolerance, make sure to stress that you have a medical need to avoid cross-contamination.
            5)  Try to get a table near a plug so you can recharge your phone.  This has nothing to do with veganism except that food p0rn tends to drain cell phone batteries rather quickly.
      6)  Be really nice to everyone who helps you.  It’s wonderful that WDW has become so accommodating for people with special dietary needs, and I’ve often found the managers, servers, and chefs there to be cheerful, friendly, helpful, and respectful of my individual wishes.  Tip generously.  If someone goes out of his or her way to assist, you can get the person’s name and e-mail Guest Services with your outpouring of praise (which will then get passed along to the Cast Member’s manager and other superiors).  Make sure you mention how much you enjoyed coming to WDW as a vegan.  It provides great feedback to let them know that their attention (along with all that pixie dust) keeps us vegans coming to the parks!

      - TFB


Sunday, November 17, 2013

We Finally Made It Back There!

Sorry for letting the blog stay dormant for so long, but we’ve just returned from a fantastic trip to WDW. What a vast difference from the last one!

Due to my mom’s ever-expanding list of dietary restrictions we did eat at a lot of the same safe places, and some things haven’t changed much, so for the sake of eschewing redundant material I’ll stick primarily to the new or updated info. 

The one thing that I will mention is that in the two years since we’ve been there, we’ve become extremely GMO conscious. (Like, probably obsessively so.) We stick to solely organic or at least Non-GMO certified foods, which as you can guess, doesn’t jibe at all with Disney standard fare. There are virtually no restaurants in my area where I can find suitably "clean" food, so I've essentially given up on eating out. (Indian food, I miss you most of all...) The Wave is one of the only places in Disney where I saw the word “organic” appear before any items, and it was just their cauliflower, green beans and some of their alcohol selections. Before we left I had to mentally prepare myself, resolving to not think too deeply about what I was going to be eating. "Just ingest the toxins and look forward to a kale-heavy detox as soon as you get home". Still, every time I saw “corn, soy, sugar, citric acid” or any of the other GMO red flags on an ingredient list I bristled and felt a bit queasy. It's funny how what once seemed perfectly normal can suddenly turn nausea-inducing once the little light switch has gone off (which most veg-people can probably attest to). There is really no way to eat organic in Disney without bringing all of your own food, which is such a shame. Even their breads are loaded with unnecessary chemicals. Consequently, I cut my snacking to a (Disney) minimum and wasn’t quite as adventurous as I had been on previous trips. That's my hyper-vigilant conscience for you. But then, it's Jiminy Cricket who always reminds us to "let your conscience be your guide", so... 

Moving on.

If you haven’t been to WDW in a while (and I hadn’t since Novemeber, 2011), the most obvious and encouraging change is that in a variety of restaurants, not only are Gardein faux meats being included in many of their standard selections, but the word “Vegan” is actually appearing on menu boards! People, we have arrived! 

One such place is Gasparilla Island Grill (formerly Gasparilla Grille and Games) at the Grand Floridian Resort. Wisely, they performed an arcade-ectomy, moving it to a separate location, completing an appreciated remodel of the restaurant. (In case you’re wondering, have no fear, there are still plenty of wild birds swooping from the ceiling while you eat. I find it comforting.)

Along with the decor, they have also changed their menu, and now have a “Create Your Own Salad with Vegan Chick’n Chunks” selection. 

I had spoken to a chef before our trip who’d also offered me a falafel burger (which I didn’t see on the menu), or a flatbread pizza. I figured that that would be a fun opener for the trip, and opted for the pizza. I ordered it with mushrooms, onions, peppers, and no cheese. Their sauce and dough are vegan, but they apparently no longer keep vegan cheese on hand. The pizza was kind of flat (both in texture and taste). Not terribly filling, and fairly bland. I think next time I would give the salad a try.

At any rate, I wasn’t looking for too heavy a meal since I was heading to Babycakes for my trip-long supply of indulgences. As always I loaded up on a bevy of breakfast (and occasionally midnight snack) treats that I rationed until the very last morning of the trip.


Cinnamon Doughnut

Banana Chip Toastie

Raspberry Toastie

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Cookie Crumble Doughnut

Coconut Doughnut

Next up, like always, was the Luau. Not much new to report here. The entrée is still the same, (couscous with stir fried shitakes, baby corn, peppers, broccoli raab, cabbage and grilled tofu) and still delicious. However, the mango salad dressing that I always looked so forward to now contains honey and is a no-go. They do have a vegan mango slaw which I was given along with the plain salad. The slaw wasn’t bad, but if blindfolded and not told ahead of time, I never would have guessed that there was mango in it. It was lacking the tropical island zing I was looking for. I hope they remove the honey from the old dressing in time for our next trip. 

The one thing that did bother me is that they served me a gluten free roll, which if toasted can actually be okay. But they not only heated it in the plastic baggy, they served it in it too! It was a steamy gloopy mess that I didn’t even bother to open, no less eat.

Fresh fruit for dessert:

I’ve been referring to this as the Trip Of a Thousand Sorbets. (Okay, so it was really 13 sorbets, but when you consider that we ate there for 11 days, that’s 1.18 sorbets per day. And given that I was also eating Toffutti and LeFou’s Brews every chance I got, I was ingesting a not insignificant number of frozen treats per day {to which my waistline can sorely attest}.)

The first sorbet came from L’Artisan des Glaces, a new ice cream shop in EPCOT's France. They have six different sorbet flavors, all of which are vegan, (as well as heavy on the chemical additives). Still, opting to ignore my trepidation, I forced myself to just dig in and enjoy the sorbet. Which I did. Immensely. My first of their sorbets was the Mixed Berry. Tart, sweet, creamy, and strong on the berry flavor. It was just what it should be.

My goal was to try all six flavors, but I only made it through four… I suppose I have to leave something to look forward to on the next trip. Throughout the vacation I tried their: 

 Pineapple (my favorite)

Lemon (a notoriously elusive and unphotographable flavor... some refer to it as "The Bigfoot of Sorbets".)

(which is the only one I didn’t really care for; it had a tart cranberry-like taste that just didn't live up to the complex flavor of a pomegranate.)

Strawberry and Mango were the two flavors I missed out on. Next time!

The next old standby who has now jumped on the vegan wagon is Sunshine Seasons. Gone is the tofu noodle bowl of yesterday. It’s been replaced by Tamarind Vegan “Beef” made with Gardein beef tips, and served with jasmine rice. This is one of those locations where “Vegan” has its permanent place on the menu board. Does my heart good! (Literally.)

The tips are very tender and meat-like. I’ve seen reviews by meat-eaters saying that the flavor reminds them more of chicken than beef, (maybe that’s because, by conventional wisdom, everything tastes like chicken to omnivores…) but if my taste buds’ memory serves me right, they seem like a cross between beef and lamb. In fact, texturally, and to a much lesser degree in terms of flavor, this dish reminded me of the lamb biryani I used to order at a local Indian restaurant way back in my pre-veg days. The portion size on the Tamarind Beef is not large, but when you mix it with the rice, it’s definitely sufficient.

They still have a veggie platter in the cold takeout section, but the red pepper hummus is not vegan. They also have the grilled veg sandwich, but as I recall their bread is not fully vegan either. (I remember looking at the ingredients, but can’t remember whether it contained Sodium Caseinate, or Sodium Stearoyl Lactalyte, or L-Cystiene… Something that I didn’t want to eat.) It also appears that they no longer carry Silk yogurt. Bummed about that.

If you're not sure what to get for dessert, they carry the large and small boxes of Enjoy Life cookies in two different flavors, as well as these organic(!) vegan gummy bears.

That night was our first time at Coral Reef in many years. They are yet another restaurant with a fantastic vegan entree right on the menu. I started with a salad because I was told that their pomegranate house dressing was vegan, and I do miss eating salad when I’m away. They had to leave most of the regular house salad off, so I ended up with a plate of mixed greens and dressing. The pomegranate dressing was tart and flavorful. More pomegranate-like than the sorbet anyway. Not sure it was worth the $12 that they charged for it, but it was a nice treat. 

The meal itself, Gardein breaded chicken with black rice and pine nuts around a vegetable stack consisting of eggplant, peppers, squash, zucchini and portabellas was rich and fantastic. Very filling. In fact, I really could’ve done without the salad. (If you're wondering, this dish has replaced the red curry noodle bowl which was their previous vegan option up until mid-summer or fall.)

For dessert, mango sorbet which was smooth and appropriately full of mangoness. (I'm already running out of ways to describe sorbet. Seriously, what else can you say about fruity ice?)

This was one of the better meals of the trip.

The next day for lunch we went to Columbia Harbor House who always has vegan chili on the menu. (Again, just leave off the crackers since they do contain dairy.) 

Since we’d talked to the chef ahead, he’d offered to make me a salad as well. I got an enormous salad with fresh broccoli, carrots and green beans, and even corn salad that I believe was brought in from Crystal Palace. A really nice lunch. (Except that every time I see a kernel of corn now I picture farmers in full Haz-Mat suits saturation bombing their fields with Monsanto's Round-Up...) I digress. 

That night we hit Crystal Palace. On the buffet, the corn and peas are vegan. (I skipped both.) Their green beans contain bacon, and the broccoli with ponzu sauce sadly now contains honey. It was one of my faves last trip, so this was disappointing. The basmati rice and curried noodles are okay as is. They are actually the only two hot things on the buffet that are. For salads, vegans are good with the cucumber salad, sweet potato salad, roasted beet and arugula salad, Moroccan couscous, and the roasted plantain salad.

I ate solely off the buffet for this meal, and they brought me Tofutti for dessert.

As far as buffets go, I’d say it’s more vegan-friendly than Chef Mickey’s but certainly not nearly as much so as Tusker House. Pooh came to my table when I was up at the buffet, and since I’d left my little food notebook open, he left me this message:

Tusker House is basically the same as always. Though there is still some conflict in terms of the information. We ate there twice this year. The first chef told me that the samosas are vegan, but fried me a special batch that weren’t cooked in the same oil as one of their meat items. Likewise, the tofu on the buffet is vegan, except that it’s fried with non-vegan items, so he made a huge separate batch of the tofu and zucchini for me.

However, the second time we were there, a different chef told me that the samosas contain egg in or on the breading. I never did come to a suitable conclusion about that. I recall having had this issue in the past. Likewise, the first chef told me that the mealy cornbread is vegan, but the second one said that all the breads except for the pita contain egg or dairy. (The pita, I believe, contains L-Cystein, so I stayed away from all of their breads.)  Still, the chutneys and sambals are vegan. As well are the plantains, roasted potatoes, Marrakesh Couscous, all of the cold salads, the white basmati rice, and the saffron vegetable stew. Still more than enough options to choose from.

I also stopped by the new Bradley Falls vegetarian kiosk in Animal Kingdom. I checked their ingredient lists and found that everything is vegan, except for the tzatziki sauce that comes with the falafel (for which he offered to substitute the mango chutney instead), and their pita bread which contains both Sodium Stearoyl Lactalyte, and L-Cysteine. I wanted to try their Asian noodles, but was too full both days that we were at the park.

Also in the Animal Kingdom is the much applauded Garden Allergy Kiosk, which unfortunately was closed the only time I went there. They do carry Babycakes items, as well as some other vegan snacks like granola bars and hummus and veggies. Good to have options! I'm hoping that this type of kiosk will eventually show up in each park. 

That night we ate at Cosmic Ray’s. The veggie burger and gluten-free roll are still vegan. I didn’t really want their chemical-laced French Fries, (they’ve changed brands since I’ve been there last, and they’re pretty industrial sounding). But since we’d talked about it before the trip, the chef was nice enough to surprise me with fresh potatoes baked as fries!

We had spoken to Chef Eric who covers many of the quick services and some table service restaurants in the Magic Kingdom. So he’s the one who hooked us up at Columbia Harbor House, Cosmic Ray’s and the Plaza Restaurant. He was fantastically helpful.

That night I tried their mango sorbet. It’s not bad, but I was dismayed to find that it's sugar free, and contains sorbitol which I would not normally eat with a rented digestive tract. Still, when in Disney… suck it up! (And suppress the guilt later.) 

For our day at Hollywood Studios we were initially planning on eating somewhere other than the Backlot Express, but the chef said that it would be a better option for us than the Studio Catering Company, so we returned. (The ABC Commissary has a Couscous, Quinoa and Arugula salad, but I haven’t checked their ingredients so I don’t know whether it’s fully vegan or not.) The Backlot veggie sandwich has taken a beating recently. The pesto is no longer vegan. Their multigrain roll is, but you have to order the sandwich without cheese which leaves little on it. It looks a bit uninspired, but is essentially okay for a quick lunch. There aren’t a ton of quick service vegan options in the park, so I make the best of it. And they do well for my mom.

If you’re still hungry after lunch, you can check out the pretzel cart on the Streets of America. Their super salty Mickey pretzels and cinnamon pretzels are both vegan! (Stay away from the jalapeño one, though; it contains cheese.)

The Saltiest Pretzel Ever Made

The Cinnamon Pretzels are closer to a doughnut than a pretzel. Crunchy awesomeness!

Speaking of pretzels, while on one of my typical ingredient-list-browsing missions, I discovered that Germany's pretzels (my favorite in all the parks) list "natural butter flavor" as an ingredient. This obviously threw me into a whirlwind of self-doubt and pretzel-deprivation-induced misery. Thankfully the hotels and all the parks now have free wi-fi access, since I'm one of the few people left on the planet without a smartphone. I emailed Backerhaus Veit, who makes the pretzels for the Germany pavilion (ironically, it's a Canadian company), and I received a prompt response assuring me that none of their products contain any animal-derived ingredients. Vindication! Conscience cleared, I then went on to gorge myself with an obscene number of pretzels throughout the remainder of the trip.

While we're talking about Germany, the Der Teddybar store now carries Ritter Sport Chocolate. The dark chocolate and dark chocolate-covered marzipan flavors are both accidentally vegan (and both a little too addicting). Best of all, according to their website, it appears that their vegan chocolate is also Non-GMO!

We then went back to Hollywood and Vine for dinner. We spoke to a chef on the phone before we came, and he assured me that I could eat most of the salads and tons of other stuff on the buffet. I had a nagging memory regarding these, but didn’t remember until after I’d spoken to him that I had learned on our last trip that they’d started using a consomme mix that contains whey and egg in virtually everything. I brought this up to Chef Ivan, who was the chef on duty in the restaurant, and he concurred. Consequently, on the buffet only the green beans, plantains, and green mixed salad are vegan.

The bright spot is that they now have a make-your-own pasta bar, and they make their own vegan meatballs if you ask special! I went to the pasta bar and was disheartened to watch the girl making the pastas cook someone’s custom order with chicken, butter, cheese, etc, and then just wipe out the pan with a rag before making the next persons’. She did have a separate pan on her right which she didn’t seem to be using. I mentioned it to the server (whose husband is a "strict vegetarian", so she takes these things very seriously), and she was nice enough to bring it up to the chef for me. Apparently, they do have a separate allergy pan (presumably the one that it didn’t appear that she was using). Just as I was going to go up and inquire about it, Chef Ivan sent me out a big plate of pasta that he’d made in the back with celery, carrots, onions, spinach, marinara, and vegan meatballs! Fantastic!

My dessert here was one of my favorites of the trip. They also bake their own vegan brownies on premises with apple sauce instead of eggs! He brought me out this wonderful platter of brownies, Toffuti and Enjoy Life chocolate chip cookies. Incidentally, the parks no longer carry Divvies anything. So Enjoy Life has taken over. Their cookies are good, and you can buy them in small single serving packs, or larger boxes, but sadly there’s no more vegan caramel corn in the park. (FUN FACT: Popcorn is always Non-GMO. Thankfully it's one perfect treat that they've yet to desecrate. Though you should always stick to the organic stuff because the list of chemicals sprayed on non-organic popcorn is rather horrifying. "The more you know...")

Twice I had desserts served this year with Mickey sprinkles. I seem to recall reading the ingredients years ago in one of the stores and I feel like there’s something not vegan in them. Either gelatin, or confectioner’s glaze, or something. So I picked them off. I may be incorrectly remembering, but I was never a big sprinkle fan anyhow.

Be Our Guest is probably my new favorite counter service restaurant in any of the parks. We tried months ahead to get in for dinner, but it wasn’t happening. Which is fine, because even for quick service you can eat in any of their three wonderful dining rooms, their food is great, and you eat off of actual glass dishes with actual metal utensils. No soggy paper plates and plastic spoons here! After you order, you can go in and sit wherever you want and the food “magically” finds you. Servers bring out the food in covered rolling trays. A classy touch. The décor is amazing. We spoke to another diner there who said she’d cried for the first ten minutes after sitting down because she had grown up with Beauty and the Beast. Sitting in the iconic ballroom with the snow falling outside the window is a pretty memorable experience. Even the entrance way, though often filled with an excessively long line of hungry patrons, is fun and engaging. I loved the banter between the suits of armor.

We ate there twice this trip. The first time I ordered their quinoa salad, which is vegan right off the menu. They serve the quinoa pressed into a little disk form, with a mixed green salad on the side. The quinoa had a mild vinaigrette flavor. The salad of mixed greens, green beans, tomatoes, olives, and cold roasted potatoes was very tasty mixed with it.

For dessert, (you guessed it) they have either raspberry or lemon sorbet. I opted for raspberry. It was creamy and refreshing. No complaints here. (Except that they bring all of your food at the same time, so it does tend to be half-melted by the time you finish your entrée. Which, I suppose, is valid justification for eating your dessert first.)

For our second meal there, since I had spoken to the chef ahead, he offered to do something a little different and made me a delicious stir fry in place of the quinoa with the same side salad as the first day. Really good!

Again, I got the raspberry sorbet.

A definite must try while in the New Fantasy Land (which is really really cool, by the way!), is LeFou’s Brew in Gaston’s Tavern. Being true to the song, Gaston’s Tavern uses “antlers in all of [its] decorating”, and would be profoundly un-vegan if it weren’t for the fact that the mounted heads and horns all appear to be fake. Even the wreaths and garland that they decorated that section with for the holidays are studded with antlers. I found it amusing. Anyway, the turkey-leg-esque pork shank is certainly to be avoided, but LeFou’s Brew is an odd concoction of frozen apple juice, toasted marshmallow flavored syrup and passion fruit-mango FOMZ, all of which (thankfully) contain no animal parts. I kind of wish they would mix the marshmallow syrup better into the frozen apple juice, but because it sinks to the bottom it makes the last third of the cup the best. That said, I got three of these over the course of the trip, and would’ve gotten another had I had the time.

While perusing their ingredient list book, I found that they have something called a "Ghost Cupcake" which happens to be unintentionally vegan. I don't know whether they only sell them seasonally or if they're at a different restaurant, but they weren't on the menu at Gaston's, so keep an eye out.

That night we ate at The Wave. This is yet another restaurant with a fabulous vegan entrée right on the menu. They offered to add tofu to the curry vegetable stew for me, and of course, I accepted. Their bread is vegan, and they still carry Earth Balance, so that’s a treat! The stew has Pink Lady apples, asparagus, butternut squash, and a few other unlikely, seasonal veggie ingredients, all soaking in a thick coconut milk broth that’s both rich and a little spicy. On top was a sufficient pile of jade rice. The balance of the fruit and vegetables worked to cut the richness. Coconut milk and tofu can be a sickeningly fatty combination for me at times, but this worked well. I still couldn’t eat the whole serving and took some back to the room for another night.

Their dessert was perhaps my favorite of the trip. Poached pears with pear-ginger sorbet. Both were out of this world. The poached pear was sweetly spiced with a cinnamon and vanilla flavor that reminded me of really good apple pie. The sorbet was stunningly well balanced and full of flavor. Spectacular.

We had the good fortune of being there during the Food and Wine Festival at EPCOT and I made sure to take full advantage.

Vegans have really come up in the World (Showcase) since 2011. I missed Terra’s debut last year, but they’re still going strong! (Though I sampled all of this stuff at different times, I’m just going to cover it all here.) I started with their chocolate cake with coconut cream and passion fruit sauce. Same basic flavor pairing as last year’s dessert from what I saw, but why mess with a formula when it works? I’m funny about passion fruit. I like it, but it also sometimes tastes a bit like B.O. Given the choice, I probably would’ve preferred a sweeter fruit like mango, or guava would’ve been excellent, since I didn’t find the cake overly sweet. Still, I was quite happy with it as is!

Their Chicken Curry was spicy, and the chicken had good texture. I felt the sauce was a bit bitter, but it might have just been my particular batch since I’ve seen a lot of great reviews of it. I would still order it again.

The Chili Colorado, however, has been haunting my dreams. I had it three times while I was down there, and though the portions got progressively smaller each time as their supply dwindled, it was still unerringly delicious. I’ve been searching fruitlessly for the recipe which I heard was in the 2012 F&W cookbook. If anyone would be kind enough to share it, I would be forever in your debt! Honestly, I don't think of it as chili so much as a fabulous saucy "beef" dish, and I couldn’t pick the cashew cheese spread out of a lineup, but all scooped up on one of the salty homemade potato chips, it’s just so freaking satisfying! Absolutely loved it!

I also tried their watermelon juice which, as expected, was like slurping up a fresh watermelon. It was like a last taste of summer. (I guess I forgot to take a picture of the juice.)

Now, I don’t drink, but the novelty of having vegan wines and an organic vegan IPA right in front of me was too much to pass up. So I tried the Red Blend which had been suggested as a pairing with the Chili. Again, I am as far as you can get from a wine connoisseur, but I honestly did not like it… at all. I drank wine growing up, fairly cheap wine to be honest, but I don’t remember it tasting that, well, vinegary. The tiny cup they served it in was really too much. I don’t mean to be harsh, but I’m curious whether anyone else tried it, and if they found it to be that rough, or if it’s just that my taste buds have changed so much that wine tastes much stronger than I remember. Consequently, I didn't venture to try the Chardonnay.

I did, on the last day, order the IPA which I found much more palatable. It was my first ever IPA, so I have nothing to compare it to, but at least it wasn’t a test of endurance to drink the whole 6 oz cup!

Moving on to happier fare, Japan’s Youki Tofu was vegan. The portion was super tiny, but the vegetables was tasty, the tofu had great texture, and the mirin sauce was sweet and salty with a pleasant fruity quality. As a fun aside, the young Japanese cashier told me that when he first came here, his host mother was vegan and loved tofu. He actually thanked me for liking tofu. Not sure whether he felt it was a sort of cultural acceptance or if he'd been the victim of some unprovoked tofu-bashing during his time in the states, but either way, I was happy to be a humble representative of the Tofu-Friends of America. 

The other surprisingly vegan-friendly booth was Scotland, whose vegetarian haggis was vegan, (and which earns you an “I Tried It!” sticker, because nothing inspires confidence in a food like getting a sticker before you eat it commending your lack of good judgement, or your ability to willfully triumph over it) as were their pureed rutabagas, or “neeps” (I really want to say that the chef said they were parsnips... either way I liked them.). The potatoes contained butter, so I got a second scoop of the sweet and creamy "neeps" whatever the heck they were. The haggis actually had a taste reminiscent of a sausage patty. I've never had real haggis, so I don't know what it's supposed to taste like, but this was certainly a less-frightening version! (Sticker not withstanding.)

(One night's dinner all together)

We also stopped into the Food and Wine Festival Center whose cafe had a "Vegan Trio" listed on the menu. When I inquired about it, the man immediately warned me that it contains honey, so it's not fully vegan for some people. I was really happy that he volunteered the information. I'm guessing it must have come up multiple times already. I never did find out exactly what it consisted of.  Apparently last year's was a combination of couscous, tabouli, red pepper dip, hummus, and pita, which sounds suspiciously similar to Sunshine Seasons' veggie takeout platter.

We had a bit of a mix up in our planning this year. For some reason, we were under the incorrect impression that the Plaza Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom was a quick service and not a table service. We hadn’t actually made reservations, but we had spoken to the chef ahead. As it turns out, they were worried that we weren’t going to show because we hadn’t made a ressie. Wonderfully enough in true Disney fashion, they not only got us right in, but we had a perfect table from which to see the castle all lit up with “ice”. It didn’t, however, change the fact that it was a table service, and we were on the dining plan with all of our table service meals already accounted for. Since the prices here are so much cheaper than at most table services (their menu is primarily sandwiches that average around the $15 mark), we just paid out of pocket for this meal, which left us a few extra quick services to play with. The chef had already planned on making me a veggie burger, which was good but basically the same thing as Cosmic Ray’s. It was presented in a somewhat more upscale way, though.

He also brought in the plantain salad and beet and arugula salad from Crystal Palace for me as a side dish. They were enough on their own to constitute a meal. In fact, he had brought so much in for me that he sent me a couple boxes home as take out.

The nicest part of the meal was that Chef Stephanie, a pastry chef at the MK, baked us vegan chocolate chips cookies from scratch! They were cakey, loaded with mini chocolate chips and all around awesome! We're so appreciative for that!

For those who don’t get the special bakery treatment, they do have Tofutti and an organic rice milk ice cream for dessert. There aren’t really any other veganizable sandwiches, but if you do find something you want to try, their sub roll is pretty basic and vegan.

Twice we ate at the Tangierine Cafe for lunch. Nothing new there. The chef did offer to fry me some special falafel in olive oil since they normally cook them with chicken or some other animal product. Everything on the vegetarian plate is vegan unless it comes with yogurt. I would stay away from both breads. The Moroccan bread has eggs and dairy in it. And the pita they carry is the same as the other restaurants.

Chefs de France is still one of my favorite meals of every trip. I always leave it up to Chef Laurent, and he never lets me down. This year was grilled zuchinni, baby zucchini, green and white asparagus, broccoli, and tomatoes over garlicky smashed potatoes, all surrounded by a red pepper/tomato sauce with a balsamic drizzle. It was as fresh and flavorful as always.

Their baguette is still vegan. They now use the same ones that are baked fresh at the Boulangerie Patisserie in the back of France, so I recommend swinging by and picking up a half or whole baguette during the day. They’re actually pretty cheap by Disney standards. It’s only $2.95 for a whole baguette! That’s comparable to our local chain grocery stores.

For dessert, as always, the sorbets of the day. This time I had coconut, mango and passion fruit (there was a lot of passion fruit this trip!). And though they’re made on the same machines as those sold in L'Artisans De Glaces, they just seem so much creamier and richer in Chefs de France. These along with the pear/ginger sorbet at The Wave were my two favorites of the trip.

Our penultimate night was spent at Chef Mickey’s. Their buffet is extremely vegan unfriendly. They do have hummus and greens on it, but that’s where the options end.

That said, the chef made me a very nice plate of red quinoa cooked with artichokes, spinach, onions, peppers and sundried tomatoes. I enjoyed this dish a lot.

For dessert, he brought me two spiced cupcakes and my mom a chocolate cupcake with strawberries. The spiced one was quite good, and the frosting is vegan. I tried the chocolate cupcake but didn’t care for it as much as mine.

Our last day we had two extra counter services to use since we’d made the mistake at the Plaza, so after having found out that Tortuga Tavern was indeed going to be open this trip, I stopped by for an in between lunch and dinner meal. At first it didn’t appear that they had their old house made chips, (they do) so I ordered a plain veggie burrito. (Basically a tortilla shell with black beans.) Their white rice is vegan, but they mix it with a cilantro pesto that contains cheese. If you have the time to talk to a manager, I’m sure they’ll give you just plain rice, but our schedule was pretty tight at this point. It wasn’t bad anyway. I loaded it up with lettuce, tomato and salsa. Since I can’t eat any of their desserts, they substituted a second bottle of water, which was really nice of them. My aunt tried that at Pecos Bill’s next door and they refused to do it.

About an hour and half after my burrito, it was time for our dinner reservation at Crystal Palace again. We won’t be eating there twice next time. We were all somewhat underwhelmed there this year. I was still so full from all the eating earlier in the day that I eschewed the buffet all together. The chef made me a curried quinoa dish that was pretty good. Filling, but not spectacular. Still, I appreciated him going out of his way for me.

And so wraps up another food adventure in the warmth of Central Florida. And now, I need to go drink my wheatgrass and kale smoothie and say a hundred Hail Chia's in penance...

As always, thanks for reading!