Thanks to my recent trips to Orlando for IAAPA and The Netherlands to see Efteling, I must concede that I haven't been in town long enough to visit the Disneyland Resort for this year's holiday event. But I did have enough time over the past couple weeks to enter the Disney Parks Blog's online sign-up for last night's meet-up at the park. (And thanks to the old-school, but still highly useful, technology of an RSS reader, I entered early enough to get in.)
So Laurie and I joined a few hundred other invited guests after California Adventure closed last night for an all-you-eat adventure through nine of the Festive Food Marketplaces from this year's Festival of Holidays. (There are three more marketplaces, located in front of The Little Mermaid, that are open for the public event but were not available for us to sample last night.)
With prices for the free eats normally ranging from $3.75 to $7.75, Disney was giving hundreds of its most loyal fans the opportunity to eat back a good chunk of whatever we'd spent on theme park tickets in the past year, so the crowd came hungry and ready to devour. We were no exceptions.
Free food also meant that we could sample the entire menu from the nine available marketplaces. Well, at least in theory. In practice, our stomachs eventually demanded that we tap out, since our wallets weren't stopping us from eating everything in sight.
So what are the best options at this year's Festival of Holidays? Laurie and I agreed that the top two were the Seared Salmon Fillet wth lemon caper sauce (normally $7.50) and the Beef Short Rib with mashed potatoes and gravy, topped with cranberry sauce ($7.75 - tied for the most expensive food item in the marketplaces).
For a side dish, we were surprised at how much we enjoyed the Green Bean and Mushroom Casserole with crispy onions ($5.75). Forget those sad, salty canned green beans drowning in soupy mushroom sludge you might associate with this dish. These were crispy fresh beans in an earthy mushroom sauce that made us realize that this holiday cliche can actually taste amazing.
The casserole is pictured above with a Chana Masala with grilled garlic naan ($6.50), which I was left with after Laurie snatched away the green beans. It tasted a bit bland for an Indian dish and the garlic was AWOL from the naan, but I enjoyed it anyway.
If you're looking for spicy heat, order the Nashville Hot Fried Turkey ($7) or the Beef Tamale a la Plancha with spicy rojo sauce ($7.25). If you're into Nashville Hot Chicken, Disney nails the flavor here, giving it a bit more heft with meatier turkey. And the tamale did not disappoint, either, though both our stomachs were too full for this much spice by the time we got to these selections.
If you're just looking to share and stroll, I would recommend the Chorizo Queso Fundido with house-made tortilla chips ($6), which did not skimp on the chorizo (or the tasty queso). The same booth also offered a Chicken Liver Pate on Toast with cherry jam and pistachios ($5.50) that I enjoyed way more than I expected, since I figured I'd take one for the team, eat a single bite and toss the rest. I finished it, instead.
As you might have noted with the presence of dishes such as Chana Masala and Chicken Liver Pate, Disney's event is — as advertised — a festival of all winter's holidays, not just Christmas. Diwali, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Navidad all get nods from the marketplaces. I love it. Want to make a statement about diversity? You don't have to use your mouth just to talk. You can use it to stuff yourself with a bunch of amazing food from a variety of cultures, too.
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