Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Day 3: Jiko, the cooking place



On day 3, we headed out to the Animal Kingdom park to enjoy the amazing early morning safari and enjoy one of the best rides at Disney, Expedition Everest. For animal lovers, this is the place to go. Out of all the safari rides we have been on at Disney, this one was by far the absolute best!  The animals were out and about and boy were they lively. Actually, lively is an understatement! The giraffes were galloping across the fields one after another chasing a poor wildebeest away from their lands; rhinos were rolling back and forth in the mud with excitement and pleasure; and cheetahs were running across the field, with speed and determination. The experience left us happy and thrilled to have seen such activity.


After wondering around the park, it was finally time to grab a snack. Knowing that I had a large dinner to look forward to, I didn’t want anything too heavy. With very few vegan food options to choose from at the Animal Kingdom park, I prepared to enjoy a hot tea and a peanut butter pack to hold me over. However, while roaming the park in search for some food that had caught our eyes previously, outside the window of one kiosk sat an example of a tropical fruit salad beautifully served within a pineapple bowl. I immediately ordered one! While it was a bit expensive, at $7.99 each, I was impressed by the presentation and the selection of fruit. Instead of the typical melons, grapes and strawberries, this fruit bowl contained pineapple, mangoes, strawberries, grapes  and my favorite, lychees! Each bite was juicy and super satisfying! 


While I was pretty hyped about my new yummy finding, what I was more hyped about was the culinary tour we were planning to take back at the resort, not to mention dinner! Our mid-afternoon culinary tour took us inside not one, but two of the most veg-friendly restaurants in Disney which happen to also be on site at the Animal Kingdom Lodge; Boma and Jiko. Boma is a buffet-style restaurant whose design and food was inspired by the African market. Guided by a native from Bonswana, we discovered the purpose and meaning behind every piece of décor and offered to taste some of the cuisine. I tried an amazing cauliflower curry soup while Tim downed the famous Zebra Dome, a non-vegan, chocolate covered, kahlua infused sponge cake that contains a native plant that I cannot recall the name of! Afterwards, we were led to Jiko, translated as “the cooking place”.

 Jiko, a sit down restaurant that contains the largest selection of South African wines in the world, is also inspired by the African culture, with a focus on the country of Swahili. I don’t know what it is, but I fell absolutely in love with this restaurant. As a wonderful ending to our tour, we were invited to stand at the counters that lined the Tandoori oven cooking area and enjoy a dish called the “Taste of Africa”. This dish contains a basket full of three types of tandoori bread, pappadum (v), naan and lavash, and four types of vegan dips, which you can read descriptions of below. The pappadum, the only bread that was vegan, was thin, crispy and spicy. The dips were all unique and flavorful in their own way, making it difficult to choose a favorite. If I recall correctly, I believe I favored the Bhuna Masala while Tim liked the Sagh Dahl. After 30 minutes of enjoyable education on the food and culture of Africa, we headed back to concierge level to await our dinner reservations at Jiko.

 
The great thing about Jiko is that it has its own vegan and gluten-free menu, meaning no questions need to be asked. As I mentioned I absolutely fell in love with this restaurant: the design, culture and food all had me trapped. Since there was a complete vegan menu, I was a bit obligated to order an appetizer, entrée and dessert (WHAT!?). For my appetizer I dined on a Pickled Artichoke Flatbread topped with a flavorful tahini, lemon, garlic dressing.  I had been craving vegan pizza and this satisfied that craving immediately. It was so good it was memorable and a dish I continuously wished I bought more of throughout the remainder of my trip. I will admit, the dressing was the highlight of this dish; without it, the dish would be great but not amazing. I definitely would order it again.

I slowly nibbled on my flatbread waiting for my entrée to arrive. I had two very difficult choices: Chermoula-Roasted Tofu or Egyptian Kushari. As a person who loves a meal with complex flavors and textures, the kushari won. As a mixture of well cooked lentils, couscous, chickpeas, raisins, vegetables and romesco sauce, the kushari definitely met my expectations in taste, but it didn’t exceed them. I guess because I knew what to expect since I have had and made a similar dish several times in the past and because I’m a person who always looks for something new. It was still very tasty and just what I wanted.  


As for dessert, now THAT was not a hard decision when the choices contained sorbet, tofutti and gasp, coconut milk panna cotta, with a blackberry sauce and mixed berries. Yep not a hard choice at all! I have actually never had panna cotta before so this was an all around new vegan and foodie experience. The panna cotta had a soft, jello like texture with a sweet, light coconut flavor. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either. It was just…different. I think the texture through me in for a loop; one I’m not a big fan of. Either way it was a new experience that I do not regret. 


I did end up taking part of my flatbread back to the room, which served as a wonderful midnight snack.

Overall, our experience at Jiko was unique; a unique taste of Africa.

Returnable? Uh yeah! I have a whole vegan menu to go through! Plus I want more of that pickled artichoke flatbread! Mmmmm!

-Beth