Japan’s Global Marketplace is our next stop at the 2020 Taste of Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, as we continue our reviews around World Showcase. In this Walt Disney World dining review, we’ll share menu prices & info, food photos, and thoughts on what’s worth the money.
Before we get to that, let’s begin with a brief synopsis of what’s happening with the 2020 Taste of EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival. As you’re no doubt aware, Walt Disney World’s theme parks were closed for 4 months. Upon reopening, this event began–over a month before the full EPCOT Food & Wine Festival would typically start. In short, the Taste of EPCOT Food & Wine Festival is a truncated version of the full event.
Menus have been scaled back, fewer new items have debuted, and some dishes are holdovers from the Flower & Garden Festival. Walt Disney World has not officially announced when this event will end or how it might evolve as the phased reopening continues, but there are signs that it’ll be expanded. Consequently, we’re updating our menus & reviews to reflect what’s currently available–but note that this is all subject to change. Additional items might be added and others removed. Stay tuned for more EPCOT updates!
The Japan booth changes up its menu pretty frequently, but usually offers a sushi option, traditional item, and something else that’s weird or fun. That all remains the case in 2020, thanks to the introduction of a couple new items and the return of Frothy Ramen.
As regular readers of the blog probably know, we’re fans of Japan–both the country and the pavilion. We are also bigtime Ramen Heads. Look no further than my Our Favorite Ramen in Tokyo, Japan or Best Ramen Restaurants in Kyoto, Japan, the latter of which mentions that “we’ve selflessly dined at over 50 ramen restaurants in Kyoto.” (That’s outdated–it’s now more like 75.) Suffice to say, we love ramen.
We aren’t snobs about Japanese cuisine, either. We know compromises are made in Americanizing cuisine for World Showcase, and we generally enjoy the pavilion’s offerings. Katsura Grill has been one of our go-to counter service restaurants in Epcot, we absolutely love Takumi-Tei, and we even like Tokyo Dining and Teppan Edo.
Unfortunately, the Japan Global Marketplace during Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival has, typically, been a different story entirely. It’s been a perpetual home to mediocre, grocery store-caliber sushi, with only the spicy roll standing out in recent years as something worth ordering. Thankfully, there are some signs of modest improvement for the 2020 Taste of Epcot Food & Wine Festival…
Let’s start with a look at the Japan Global Marketplace menu for the 2020 Taste of Epcot International Food & Wine Festival:
- Tempura Donburi: Two pieces of Tempura Shrimp and Kakiage (Vegetable Tempura) with Tentsuyu Dipping Sauce served over Sushi Rice
- Frothy Ramen: Chilled Noodles and Dashi Broth topped with Egg White Froth
- Chirashi Sushi Flowerpot: Fresh-cut Salmon, Salmon Roe, and Spinach served over Sushi Rice with Furikake and topped with Poke Sauce
- Kirin Draft Beer
- Strawberry Nigori Sake
- Furano Martini: Vodka, Lavender Syrup, and Yuzu Juice
Now our photos and reviews of each item…
Tempura Donburi ($8) – Two pieces of Tempura Shrimp and Kakiage (Vegetable Tempura) with Tentsuyu Dipping Sauce served over Sushi Rice. This is legitimately almost the size of a counter service entree.
Normally, I’d be worried that the portion size would be reduced over the course of the event, but the description indicates how many pieces of tempura this includes. Quality-wise, the tempura is solid, too. It’s a bit on the heavier side, but the batter is still delicious. It’s about on par with something you might get at Tempura Tendon Tenya, a famous fast food chain in Japan. (Albeit not as greasy.) This is going to be my go-to dinner in World Showcase for the summer!
Chirashi Sushi Flowerpot ($6.75) – Fresh-cut Salmon, Salmon Roe, and Spinach served over Sushi Rice with Furikake and topped with Poke Sauce. This dish is going to be more a matter of perspective.
The salmon and roe here are good, and come together with the other flavors for a good chirashi bowl. However, it’s a fairly small portion for the price, and nothing about this really stands out. On par with a chirashi bowl you’d find at Fresco or some other super market, but twice the price for half the size.
Frothy Ramen ($6.25) – Finally, the ramen that had us so excited last year. For those unfamiliar with the modern ramen scene, let’s start by clearing up misconceptions. If you’ve dismissed ramen as the domain of poor college students, we’d implore you to get past your preconceptions. Today’s ramen is not just enjoyed by college students, but also by serious foodies and everyone in between.
Ramen restaurants in Japan have won Michelin stars, and locations all around the globe are doing interesting and inventing things, bringing tremendous cuisine to the masses at an affordable price point. I could go on and on about the greatness of ramen, but I’ll spare you that. Suffice to say, this Frothy Ramen had the potential to push the envelope and do something great.
Awa-kei Ramen, or frothy ramen is currently becoming trendy in Japan’s Kansai region. Throughout the country, hiyashi ramen/reimen (cold ramen) is likewise becoming a popular summertime dish, prepared in a variety of ways. Walt Disney World had the opportunity serve something trendy, fun, and inventive with Frothy Ramen.
Opportunity squandered. Instead of a nuanced and umami dashi broth, what’s present here is flavored mostly by soy and salt, and those are so strong that it’s difficult to ascertain anything else. The noodles taste like they’ve been soaking in the broth, and are soggy as a result. The froth is the only interesting part of the dish, but it’s hard to get past everything else. Not recommended when paying out of pocket. (And if you’ve never had good ramen, please don’t form your opinion of it based upon this mess.)
Ultimately, the Japan Global Marketplace is one of the pleasant surprises of the 2020 Taste of Epcot Food & Wine Festival. Japan should be one of the perpetual standouts (Paris is routinely considered the culinary capital of the world, but Tokyo actually has over double the number of Michelin-starred restaurants as Paris, and Kyoto also edges Paris in the Michelin star department), but that has never been the case. Obviously, the Japan booth is not going to be dishing out Michelin-caliber cuisine. The point is that the country of Japan is a food mecca, and its Global Marketplace should reflect this. Thankfully, at least now there are a couple of options on par with Japanese fast food and convenience stores like Lawson and 7-11!
Check out our Epcot Food & Wine Festival Booth Menus post if you want to see and read more about every menu this year. You’ll also want to read our full Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival Guide before you go to get an idea of what to do, strategy for the festival (yes, you will need a strategy), and much more!
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What do you think of the Japan Global Marketplace? Have you tried any of the food items at this booth? What did you think of them? Would you like to see Japan try something more ambitious and different than the standard sushi? Questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!