Theme Parks

The World of Avatar: How Disney Created Food Fit For Pandora

The chefs at Walt Disney World have had real-world examples of dishes to work with when developing their menus. With “The World of Avatar,” they only had a movie–a film set on a fictional moon populated by the Na’vi, blue-skinned creatures that are ten feet tall. Not a problem.

“The Na’vi are very fit, trim, muscular, athletic creatures so you get the sense that they eat well and are very mindful of what they’re eating,” Robert Adams, operational director for all of Animal Kingdom’s restaurants told Marriott TRAVELER at the grand opening of “The World of Avatar.” “We took a look at what’s growing in Pandora’s tropical landscape and tried to pull ingredients from there to create the menu.”

We constantly find new things we want to bring to the table. Pandora allowed us to create identifiable food items but presented in a new way.

Robert Adams

The resulting items served up at Satu’li Canteen, “The World of Avatar’s” signature restaurant, is heavy on wholesome grains, fresh vegetables and hearty proteins like chicken and steak.

In the fast-casual eatery, diners assemble their own bowls, choosing between a base of quinoa and vegetable salad; red and sweet potato hash; mixed whole-grain and rice or romaine and kale salad. Next is either wood-grilled chicken, slow-roasted beef, sustainable fish or chili-spiced fried tofu. Topping it off are a charred onion chimichurri, black bean vinaigrette or creamy herb dressing.

There are 48 different combinations for the bowls customers can create, Adams said. That helps “build in a platform for repeatability” and encourage guest to come back for more.

“We looked at a lot of concepts,” says Adams. “Chipotle was one of the ones that we loosely referred to. We liked their customization of fresh food and felt that everyone leaves there happy because they selected how their meal is made.”

Satu’li’s menu also offers steamed “pods” or bao buns with ingredients found in either a cheeseburger or vegetable curry served with root vegetable chips and crunchy vegetable slaw.

The kids menu includes grilled chicken or beef, fish or tofu with greens or rice; a hot dog wrapped in Parker House dough; cheese quesadilla, or a steamed cheeseburger bao bun.

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Satu’li’s menu also offers steamed “pods” filled with ingredients found in either a cheeseburger or vegetable curry (Photo: Disney Parks and Resorts)

“We constantly find new things we want to bring to the table,” Adams says of the baos. “Pandora allowed us to create identifiable food items but presented in a new way.”

The flavors are heavy on Argentinian, Brazilian and Chinese influences for a reason.

“We have a pretty diverse guest base so we find more and more that we need more variety of options,” Adams says. “Multi-cultural flavors and their tendency to work with fresh ingredients lend themselves towards a better overall experience for everyone.”

Given that Pandora will be a popular destination for visitors to Animal Kingdom, the land also offers breakfast for early risers.

The morning menu includes a hearty vegetable goat cheese frittata with wood-fired, herb-crusted beef and chimichurri; as well as pork shoulder potato hash with chorizo sausage and natural jus. There’s also a steamed bao bun with scrambled egg, bacon, spinach and pickled vegetables.

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Inside the Satu’li Canteen at “The World of Avatar” inside Disney’s Animal Kingdom. (Photo: Disney Parks and Resorts)
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Pandora’s Satu’li Canteen also serves up breakfast in the morning. (Photo: Disney Parks and Resorts)

Lighter options include fruit and yogurt muesli, steel-cut oats with whiskey-soaked raisins, Marcona almonds and goji berries; or cinnamon swirl french toast with blueberry cheesecake dollop and passion fruit anglaise.

Just outside Satu’li Canteen is Pongu Pongu, a kiosk serving up speciality drinks. Pongu Pongu means “party party” in Na’vi. The kiosk’s signature drink is the Frozen Nectar (frozen limeade with layered flavors of Granny Smith Apple and Desert Pear topped with bursting mango boba balls) that glows with bioluminescent colors reminiscent of Pandora’s flora.

There’s also a Screaming Banshee Margarita and Avatar Private Label Ale. That includes a Valley of Mo’ara High Country Ale (an amber ales with herbal spice hop aroma and a malty flavor profile with notes of coffee, toffee and nuts), and Hawkes’ Grog Ale (a green brew with a fruity hop character that includes apricot and peach with a hint of wheat on the finish).

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One of Pandora’s desserts is meant to resemble the eye of the blue Na’vi. (Photo: Disney Parks and Resorts)

Adams’ team also had fun with desserts.

One is strikingly blue, inspired by the eyes of the Na’vi and is filled with blueberry cream cheese mousse and topped with passion fruit.

And Pongu Pongu has a lumpia, or fried egg roll filled with pineapple and cream cheese.

According to Adams, it took Disney’s food and beverage team four years to develop the menu for “The World of Avatar.”

There are only 80 ingredients across the entire menu.

“It’s pretty clean and, as chefs, it’s nice to work with less,” Adams says. “It also helps from an allergy aspect for the consumer as well.”

To connect even deeper with the story of cooking in Pandora, “we grill all our meats and veggies, so the smell of smoke and wood creates an immersion from the land right into the restaurant,” Adams says.

The overall design of the Satu’li Canteen was inspired by the military bases set up on Pandora by the Resources Development Administration in James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

Once the main mess hall of RDA, Satu’li Canteen is now owned and operated by the Alpha Centauri Expeditions tour company, and features hand-woven tapestries, art and other items created by the Na’vi.

According to Stefan Hellwig, executive creative director for Walt Disney Imagineering, “The setting of Pandora – The World of Avatar is long after the Na’vi and the humans have reconciled their conflict, and we are invited as guests to visit Pandora.”

We’re already excited to see what Pandora’s chefs will serve up next.