We continue from India.
Is…is….is that an open Marketplace? Before October 1st? It’s like finding a McDonald’s with a working ice cream machine. Or a view across World Showcase that isn’t blocked by Armageddon.
The Beef Bun looks to be on the new side along with a fresh take on the potstickers that they’ve served here for years. The Dragonfly flutters over from the Festival of the Holidays and the Kung Fu Punch is now a Kung Fu Master. If only somebody had told me this was a cult masquerading as a multilevel marketing team I would have gotten branded yesterday. Orlando Brewing sneaks in their Jasmine Draft Beer again, too. Nice try pal.
- Pan-Fried Chicken Dumplings Served with House-made Sweet-and-Spicy Sauce – $5
- ZiRan Beef Bao Bun: Grilled Beef with Cumin – $7.25
- Crispy-fried Pepper Shrimp served with Spicy Sichuan Noodles – $7.50
- Mango Bubble Milk Tea with Aassam Black Tea, Whole Milk, and Mango Syrup – $7.25
- Byejoe Punch with Chinese Bai Jiu Spirit, Lychee Syrup, Soda Water, and Pina Colada Mix – $11.75
- (Long) (Fluttering) Dragonfly – Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila, Absolut Vodka, Orange Juice, and Mango Syrup – $13.95
- Kung Fu Master with Absolut Vodka, Triple Sec, Mango Syrup, and Orange Juice – $13.50
- Jasmine Draft Beer – $5 for Six Ounces or $9 for Twelve
Pan-Fried Chicken Dumplings Served with House-made Sweet-and-Spicy Sauce – $5
Last time the Dumplings sounded new, we were basically tricked, as the website mused:
Pan-fried pot stickers are among my favorite things, and I was excited to try a new take on a venerable, if not overpriced, favorite. But this year’s “Chicken Dumplings” are exactly the same as the Pot Stickers that have been served here for years and that minuscule amount of cabbage and carrot on top increases the price by a dollar, which is ridiculous. They were also a little undercooked for my tastes, making for a softer, limper couple of bites.
These may look familiar as they’re what the Marketplace used to serve. You can see that each dumpling has a little bit of a darker char, making for a much more satisfying, much more crispy bite. Renaming the item and raising the price by a dollar just to add a few strands of carrot that nobody’s going to touch “feels” a bit insulting, and we now have an item that was previously a poor value costing even more money. It’s unfortunate.
If you ever wonder how I got the nickname, “Sunshine and Rainbows,” there you go.
This year’s version is indeed different, but the Dumplings themselves take another step back. They’re more steamed than Pan-Seared, like somebody tried to rock the one-pan instructions on the back of the bag of frozen Ling-Ling Potstickers that you can often find in your grocer’s frozen food aisle(s). They’re never as good as when you boil them and then pan fry them separately. Everything else looks promising – I like the amount of sauce; we should get some bonus crunch from the green onions; and the sesame seeds should add a touch of gentle earthiness against what we’re hoping is a sauce that’s sweet at first blush, but finishes with a lingering chili spice. But it turns out that what we were served is not exactly that – everything was surprisingly bland, like somebody stuck a baster in there and sucked out all the flavor. I don’t know where they put it, but it was not Italy. Despite its vibrancy, the red sauce brought little sweet and nothing spicy to the table, while the other toppings might as well have been absent, much like they were in the past. They look a little more elegant than previous years, but sooner or later you have to open your mouth and be disappointed. That said, you could certainly do worse, and these are a fan favorite. Hopefully yours will be cooked properly.
ZiRan Beef Bao Bun: Grilled Beef with Cumin – $7.25
There’s the new ZiRan Beef version, which isn’t much of a departure from the chicken filling that we’ve seen each of the last couple of years, in context. It’s about as much food as our two Potstickers, which is to say, not very much.
ZiRan, which is a Daoist principle that apparently translates to: “naturally; natural; spontaneously; freely; in the course of events; of course; doubtlessly.” In the endnotes it says that’s from Wikipedia, but I won’t make you scroll down. While we don’t currently possess the mental acuity to unpack all of that, I can say with some certainty that there is little doubt that you want to spontaneously skip this and freely order something else. Probably elsewhere. It’s hard to say which was tougher – the bun or the beef as each Bao sits under a heat lamp that’s probably not as hot as it is outside far before anyone thinks of purchasing it. If the bun were softer, the beef leaner, and there was even a hint of cumin, we’d be closer to being in business, but $7.25 would still be too much given the small size. I’d put your money back in your microwave and save it for Canada’s Filet Mignon. Or do something for the earth and get the plant-based fish from the vegan booth, YOU ANIMAL.
For about three dollars more, you’ll receive two overflowing, carefully-prepared buns in air-conditioning at the Pavilion’s sit-down restaurant, Nine Dragons. Why anyone is toting around three bites of nonsense outside in the heat for more than $7 will take some additional reflection that we do not have time for at this juncture. It’s an easy skip if you care about price and value, but also bland enough to be “accessible” for the “picky eater.”
Crispy-fried Pepper Shrimp served with Spicy Sichuan Noodles – $7.50
The noodles are largely soft, rubbery, and slightly spicy underneath what is now a disappointing number of shrimp with just two adorning the top of each pile of noodles. There’s a decent amount of heft to the dish, but it’s largely one-dimensional with a similar deep-fried gumminess to those revolting Ravioli we suffered through back in
This ends up being a relatively filling dish that would do a nice job of soaking up the alcohol from the relatively strong drinks served here, but it’s hard to look past the price point given the lackluster shrimp. Quality or quantity. You have to pick one. I’m not at Ale House every night ordering the 35 Fried Shrimp Platter expecting it to taste like Citricos. But I also don’t go to Citricos and expect 35 Shrimp. At least unless I order eight-and-a-half of something.
Mango Bubble Milk Tea with Aassam Black Tea, Whole Milk, and Mango Syrup – $7.25
This is a bad picture of a cold and refreshing drink that’s creamy without being heavy, and sweet without being overwhelming. It’s one of my favorite non-alcoholic beverages to enjoy in the lingering afternoon heat that will continue well into October. I do miss the $5 price point that we saw just a couple of years ago.
Taste: I love it.
Byejoe Punch with Chinese Bai Jiu Spirit, Lychee Syrup, Soda Water, and Pina Colada Mix – $11.75
On the left is the Byejoe Punch, which is perhaps the most refreshing cocktail at the Festival, tasting faintly of pineapple, lychee, and sweet coconut, while still maintaining a surprisingly thin, easy-to-sip consistency. It packs a considerable punch as well. Note that the drink has proven to be so popular that it’s now available year-round from the Joy of Tea.
(Long) (Fluttering) Dragonfly – Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila, Absolut Vodka, Orange Juice, and Mango Syrup – $13.95
China’s drinks end up being among the strongest at the various Festivals, thanks to what are usually heavy pours. You might scope out who is doing the mixing and see how it’s looking before committing, as the non-alcoholic juices are poured first, with the alcohol following, so you can get a better idea about how much is actually poured versus the many pre-mixed concoctions. While the list of ingredients reads like something I would make blackout drunk with severely limited supplies, it actually comes together pretty well. The orange juice does a nice job of masking what is quite a bit of alcohol and there isn’t so much of the syrup to make it cloying or offputtingly viscous. (Usually.) There isn’t a lot of nuance here – just a lot of Cuervo – but it’s a strong drink, which is something that you very rarely see at Epcot (sorry, EPCOT) these days. We’re only two years off of paying $10 for a similar drink, but I have a feeling this isn’t the worst we’re going to get gouged.
Kung Fu Master with Absolut Vodka, Triple Sec, Mango Syrup, and Orange Juice – $13.50
Apparently there is a surplus of Mango Syrup somewhere. The Kung Fu Master is a refreshing, sweet, orange-flavored drink with a healthy pour of Vodka and Triple Sec on top. While seeing the price go up $4.50 over the Punch with similar ingredients is not ideal, we do see a slightly smoother vodka in the Absolut, and a little more care seems to be put into mixing each drink consistently. Honestly, I would take the $9 version with the garbage vodka, though. I probably didn’t need to tell you.
Jasmine Draft Beer – $5 for Six Ounces or $9 for Twelve
One of these is the Jasmine Draft Beer from China. I promise. I’ll admit that I was excited to see a replacement for the bottles of Tsingtao that we’ve seen served here for years.
I was much less excited when I saw that it was just another lousy Orlando Brewing Company beer that’s just as skunkily below average as the majority of the rest of their offerings. I’m guessing that the flavor is supposed to balance hops with a floral effervescence, but it tastes largely of peat moss and vermiculite. Who would have thought we’d be begging for Tsingtao’s return.
If you’re looking for a more interesting beer in the area, try the Foo Beer from the Joy of Tea stand to the left of the China Marketplace. Lotus Blossom Café serves the same thing. Just don’t tell them Suntory China is actually Japanese.
Overall, China offers some highs and lows. Most of the food tastes good, but is overpriced. Unfortunately, we’re getting close to saying the same thing about the cocktails, which have gone up about 40% in price over the last two years. But Disney is charging more across property. And because some of these Marketplaces are operated by third parties, including China, you’d have to expect that there’s a significant kickback to the Mouse. Thus, you pay more and get less compared to a Disney-operated booth, where they only send the kickbacks to themselves. What a life. At least they upped the quality of the ingredients. I don’t think we can say as much about the food.