We continue on from Sapphire in Morocco.
If you can tell me why Disney elected to changes the names of several of these Holiday Kitchens this year then you’re smarter than I am. Changing Morocco’s “Tarabuki,” which probably isn’t the most intuitive name of all time, to “Sapphire,” makes some amount of sense. But I’m not sure why you’d take Hokkaido, which is the second largest island in Japan, a popular variety of scallop, and the name of a popular chain of all-you-can-eat buffets here in the Orlando area, to “Shi Wasu.” “Shiwasu,” which is typically one word in English as far as I can tell, is the old name for the month of December in Japanese. Thus, it makes some amount of sense to name the Japanese Holiday Kitchen after that month. But I’m not sure where you’re ordinarily going to pick up that knowledge. On the other hand, at least it isn’t called “Noodle by Diamonds International.”
“The New Year Celebration Soba” returns in name, but this year it’s served in “Hot Dashi Soup” with “Chicken and Spinach” instead of last year’s choice between Tempura Shrimp or Chicken. Japan also gets into the Yule Log game with a Green Tea version and the Ichigo Milk Boba takes over for last year’s Iced Strawberry Milk. The Cinnamon Apple Cider is new, replacing last year’s Strawberry Nigori Sake Cocktail and the Sapporo Draft returns.
New Year Celebration Soba: Buckwheat Soba Noodles in Hot Dashi Soup with Chicken and Spinach — $6.75
This year’s soup is served in a nondescript white bowl instead of last year’s festive bright burgundy vessel. Personally, I won’t miss the Tempura Shrimp that was offered last year – there’s “literally” no reason to stick a tail-on shrimp that would otherwise be nice and crispy in soup until it’s the soggiest ingredient.
Nonetheless, the tempura is still present and does end up adding a little bit of a crunchy character to the large number of soft buckwheat noodles that are hiding underneath the hunk of under-seasoned chicken. The sour roughage that is the spinach helps cut some of the salt from the soup, but this ends up being more of a miso situation. It is a lot of food for the money and would probably taste best on cooler evenings. There’s some hope here, but I’d need to see something more from the chicken to give this a thumbs up.
Katsura Grill, the Pavilion’s quick service, serves similar noodle bowls all year for around $12 each. I preferred the thickness of the soba noodles to the thinner version served at Katsura – they held up better. But it’s similar soup otherwise.
Holiday Green Tea “Yule Log:” Delicate Spongecake rolled with Whipped Cream Filling — $5
I gave last year’s Mochi dessert a two out of ten on flavor given its off-putting gelatinous texture, so I was happy to see something else substituted this year.
Unfortunately, we didn’t care much for this either. The Spongecake is advertised as “delicate,” which is probably true, but they forgot to add “flavorless” in there with it. The Whipped Cream does arrive with a nice natural strawberry flavor, but it isn’t enough to make this anywhere close to compelling enough to purchase it over several significantly better options, including the Beignets we saw at Sapphire and the Chocolate Pecan Tart that’s coming up in the United States. I think this is an easy skip.
Ichigo Milk Boba: Popping Strawberry Boba Cream Drink with Japanese Calpico — $5.25
This is an incredibly refreshing drink with a natural strawberry flavor and a smoothie-like texture, this year with popping boba in lieu of the whipped cream. I think it’s a smart move as the drink is already creamy enough from the Calpico Yogurt and boba balls are always fun to try to slurp up. This is (arguably) the best non-alcoholic drink at the Festival and while the serving size isn’t overwhelming, it’s a reasonable value given the quality.
Cinnamon Apple Cider: Plum Wine, Orange Juice with Lemonade and Apples — $7.25
Japan’s Festival cocktails are almost always a complete waste of time. Fortunately, that isn’t entirely true this year, as the Cinnamon Apple Cider carries all of the festive winter flavors that you’d hope with about a dozen pieces of cinnamon apple pieces floating on top.
There’s very little alcohol involved, but at $7.25, you’re not paying for something that you’re not getting. It’s not a “must buy,” but it’s certainly a tasty option.
Overall, Japan disappoints on the food front this year. With lines that are typically short to nonexistent, it may be worth stopping by for a drink, but bypassing Shi Wasu altogether probably won’t ruin your Festival experience. If you do stop and the temperature is cooler, then you might also consider adding a soup.