Sunday, November 24, 2013

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


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the new reviews! I'm going in January and I wasn't planning on going to Epcot, but that Sorbet and the fact that the new Frozen princesses are in Norway might make me have to go!
    Both times I've been to Boma have been disappointing but when I went to Tusker House in 2010 they were so great about veganizing individual servings of certain dishes that otherwise had some cheese or butter. I'm going this time so Im hoping that hasn't changed..