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Eat This: Japan’s Shi Wasu Holiday Kitchen at the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays

It should come as no surprise that after the L’Chaim! Holiday Kitchen I headed straight to the Japan pavilion to check out the festival offerings of the Shi Wasu Holiday Kitchen.

You’ll find the Shi Wasu Holiday Kitchen on the World Showcase Lagoon just across from the Japan pavilion. Shiwasu is the old name for December in Japanese. Now December is simply known as jūni-gatsu, or literally “the 12th month”. The intended meaning of the old “shiwasu” is, as I’ve understood it, not perfectly clear. Some say that it refers to the end-of-year month that is so busy that even the usually calm masters (shi) are running (su) to get things finished and in order. Others suggest that it referred to the end (hasu) of the year. I’m sure a person better informed about the nuances of classical Japanese could write more about this – but I am not that person, so luckily we are here to talk food and not ancient kanji.

And in any case, Shi Wasu is simply the lovely chosen name of the Japanese Holiday Kitchen at this year’s Epcot International Festival of the Holidays, which this year offers only 2 food items – one savory and one sweet – along with a few drink options.

  • New Year Celebration Soba: Buckwheat Soba Noodles in Hot Dashi Soup with Chicken and Spinach ($7.25)

I love, love, love soba. I love everything that it stands for and the comfort that is associated with it in Japan. In hot summer months the noodles are served refreshingly cool. In cold winter months, the noodles are served steaming hot and have the same sort of cozy connotation as chicken noodle soup here. It is comfort food that changes its details with the agility of a chameleon to suit the season.

That said – we’ve been spoiled by gorgeous presentations at the various Japan booths over the last few festivals. In fact the soba at last year’s holiday festival was in a bowl so pretty that many of us didn’t throw it away when we were done eating. For this reason, I was a bit surprised when I was handed this soba in a (very large) paper bowl. I do think that presentation matters and it’s a shame when the bar is set and drops again…but that said, this soba is so, so delicious. The broth is incredibly flavorful and the soba are light and warm. The spinach is fresh. And the chicken, while weirdly not cut up (what the heck??) is pretty generous.

Seriously. they couldn’t dice this up a bit?

But for all of my hemming and hawing over the presentation and the chunk of chicken, it’s really, really good. Even my picky 8 year old basically licked the bowl clean. We’ll be back for more more than once.

  • Holiday Green Tea “Yule Log”: Delicate Spongecake rolled with Whipped Cream Filling ($5.50)

Add this to the list of desserts at this Festival of the Holidays that just misses the mark for me. It’s a shame because it’s absolutely lovely and the description had me running to this holiday kitchen. Cream filled green tea spongecake with berries?? Sign me up. But the execution is meh. The spongecake is a bit dry and the cream is just a little too heavy. It’s fine enough. And it’s lovely to look at. But it could have been so much more.

  • Ichigo Milk Boba: Popping Strawberry Boba Cream Drink with Japanese Calpico (non-alcoholic) ($5.25)

This is a tasty little drink for a hot day. It doesn’t taste heavily dairy but it does have Calpico in it – a yogurt-flavored, non-carbonated soft drink that’s popular in Japan. It basically comes off like a simple strawberry smoothie. As you can see from the picture, the boba aren’t traditional tapioca boba but the thin skinned, juice-filled kind that you’ll often find in top-your-own frozen yogurt shops. They’re fun and tasty – but not nearly as hearty (or, for me, satisfying) as the traditional sort. As you’ll see in a future post, you’ll need to go to the Shanghai Holiday Kitchen at the China pavilion for those.

All in all, I wish Japan would have offered more options this season and kept up the incredible presentation that they’ve become known for over the last year or two – but I will absolutely be back for the soba.

And while you are in Japan, absolutely do not miss the wonderful Daruma Storyteller. She is so engaging and without question one of my favorite parts of the holidays in Epcot.

But for now? Shi Wasu – Check!

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