African in Orlando with Kid Friendly

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    If you love buffets, there's nothing better than table after table laden with massive and sometimes bizarre combinations of food. But if you dislike or distrust the concept of groaning boards, you'd probably be inclined to avoid Boma - Flavors of Africa, the buffet-style African restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. You do so at the risk of missing some unusual and very tasty dishes.

    "Boma" is a fenced space in the Maasai bushland, surrounded by thatch huts and usually home to a chief and his family. The Boma at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is designed as wonderfully as the rest of the building (the massive thatch cathedral ceiling in the lobby still makes me teary-eyed), with pillars like stacks of huge ceramic pots, a massive copper hood over the hot tables, and hanging lights made of orange, yellow, and green glass gourds. The 270-seat restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner, with a half-dozen "cooking stations" offering serve-yourself salads, soups, meats, seafood, veggies and desserts.

    The servers, all from various African countries, seat more than 1,000 people a day, and dinner will set you back $21.99 (breakfast $14.99). But that price opens the gate to a world of very different (and sometimes unrecognizable) foods, from salmon baked in banana leaves to "zebra mousse."

    Some dishes change by availability, but you'll usually find a thick and creamy carrot soup spiced with ginger, along with curried coconut soup and mulligatawny that show the Indian influence on South African food. The puzzling flavors in the different dishes come from unusual combinations of tamarind, cumin and cinnamon, along with hot chilis, cilantro and papaya. For a mouthful, try the cucumber chutney with the grilled spiced chicken.

    Prime rib and ham (and mac 'n' cheese for the kids) are by far the most unimaginative of the offerings and not really African at all. Better to check out the seafood stews or a wonderful mix of white potatoes and sweet potatoes spiked with cinnamon and pepper. "Pap," a white corn mash almost identical to grits, is served as porridge for breakfast, but made thicker – and sometimes grilled – at dinner. Wines are strictly South African and equal to vintages anywhere; the coffee is Kenyan.

    Boma is an unusual take on the buffet. But it's best to call ahead for priority seating – it could save 45 minutes of agonizing wait time.

    Orlando’s lone Ethiopian restaurant is a blessing for foodies with an appetite for the exotic. Utensils come in the form of pancake-like sourdough bread called injera, used to scoop intensely spiced dishes from a large communal platter. Be sure to sample traditional honey wine as well as Ethiopian coffee, brewed in a clay pot.

    'Eighty percent of everything you see here is authentic,â?� says Charlie, our greeter for the evening at Sanaa, the newest dining option at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.

    'Sanaaâ?� is the Swahili word for 'work of art.â?� The comfortable, earth-toned restaurant, sited in the Kidani Village, is patterned after an African spice market. Charlie, according to his name badge, is from Johannesburg, South Africa. So far, so authentic. The cloth draping the walls and ceilings? Authentic. Most of the artwork and knickknacks? Authentic.

    Naturally, Charlie's scripted claim led me to wonder what around here wasn't African in origin, but he handed us off to our server before I could get a journalistically satisfying answer. As in all things Disney, it's often best to just go with the flow. Thankfully, that's not hard to do. Disney has food service down to a science, and it would take one far more curmudgeonly than I to let that mystery 20 percent spoil dinner.

    Sanaa is billed as 'the art of African cooking with Indian flavors,â?� and while I'm no expert on African cuisine, I do know Indian flavors when they across my plate. And that is largely what will cross your plate at Sanaa. The appetizer sampler plate ($14.99) featured potato and pea samosas, pulled duck with red curry sauce and a few pieces of roasted cauliflower. With the exception of the duck, indistinguishable from pulled pork, it was all Indian-light; nothing too spicy or challenging here.

    Our server, whose name tag indicated that she hailed from the exotic land of the University of Central Florida, painstakingly explained the workings of the on-site tandoor oven, after which it would have been almost rude not to order something from it, which we did. And it was a wise decision. The tandoori chicken ($17.99) featured moist, perfectly cooked chunks of yardbird, a small bowl of rich, tangy, yogurt-tinged dipping sauce in which to dunk them, and a bed of basmati rice. It proved satisfying, if a bit small for the price.

    From that same oven came 'Indian-style bread serviceâ?� ($8.99), a sampler of naan, paratha and paneer paratha accompanied by your choice of three dipping sauces. I've had lighter, tastier Indian breads at any number of I-Drive establishments, and the sauces ' mango chutney, tamarind chutney and cucumber raita ' were flavorful if just a little too sweet, likely a concession to the American palate.

    We also ordered a dish called, plainly enough, 'slow cooked in gravyâ?� ($18.99), again a sampler of two out of three options: beef short ribs in red gravy, chicken with red curry sauce or shrimp in green curry. I chose the beef -' falling-apart tender, but the gravy was too close to barbecue sauce for my comfort -' and the shrimp ' large and succulent in a mild green curry sauce that left me wanting more ' and along with a generous portion of basmati, it was more than I could eat.

    Dessert was a float-off-your-spoon'light chai cream mousse ($5.49) and a pot of robust, pressed Kenya AA coffee ($6.29), one of the strongest and most distinct flavors of the whole meal.

    Sanaa's limited menu options, somewhat muted flavors and detailed atmosphere make for a safely exotic experience. It is, as my dining partner put it so aptly, starter Indian food. If you like it, don't let your culinary adventure begin and end there.

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