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Review Posted on Thursday, September 10, 2015
The Mara is the only counter service location for both the Jambo House and Kidani Village at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. That always seemed a little odd to me, because those poor guests staying on the north west end at Kidani have a loooong way to casually walk over and grab something to eat. Sure, they have Sanaa right there, but it might be nice to have another counter service location on the Kidani side. I'm just saying.
It's interesting that I brought up Sanaa as well... because the two restaurants both make use of a custom-shaped, floating drop-ceiling effect to give guests the feeling that we're dining under a canopy of trees. Sanaa's compartmentalized dining areas seem larger because of it, while the actually large space at the Mara seems closed in and a little claustrophobic as a result. It's very interesting, (to me anyway), and I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned about interior design in there somewhere.
Beyond that, the two restaurants are very different. That's not entirely bad though. For a counter service location, The Mara may be one of my favorite counter service locations (from a food standpoint), because like most of the restaurants at Animal Kingdom Lodge, they offer what are basically American dishes, with African, Indian, and Mediterranean spices added here and there. It's a perfect mix for those that want to experience cuisines outside of what one can get just about everywhere else.
A perfect example is the Mara's African Stew that I had a chance to try the other day. Most westerners are familiar with a meat, potatoes, and carrots kind of stew, or if you're from a barbecue state... a more spice heavy Brunswick stew that usually has pulled pork, chicken, corn, and a bit of heat to it.
The Mara's African Stew really is a sum of it's parts, combining beef, turkey, ham, carrots, potatoes, peas, chickpeas, and raisins, all served over Basmati (white) rice. Yahoo for raisins, and not Craisins®. Don't get me wrong, I love a good Craisin® but they're all over the place these days. The not as sweet raisin makes much more culinary sense in this dish.
One of the spice component is a bit of red curry, but not to the point where there's any real spice-heat to the dish (it's very far back in the sauce), and of course a few of the trade spices, coriander, garlic, and probably a bit of dried pepper of one type or another. The reason that it doesn't come off as a super hot (spicy) dish, is because there is also coconut milk and sugar in the mix.
All in all, it's not like any stew you've had before... and as a foodie, I love having options and getting flavors that you just can't find anywhere else. This particular stew might be what I would consider a good "baseline" for many of the savory foods at Animal Kingdom Lodge... the combination of curry, pepper, coriander, and something sweet to balance it all out... is a theme that you'll find in many of the dishes here.
Another interesting note, for those of you that have been to the nearby (and slightly attached in the kitchen) Boma… and really liked the legendary Boma soups… most of the "Soups of the Day" served at Mara, are the exact same soups that are being served at Boma. So you don't necessarily have to go to the more expensive buffet to get that sweet Butternut Squash Soup or the Coconut Curry Chicken Stew that you've been craving… just head on down to the Mara. (They even have grab-and-go Zebra Domes in a plastic container, that are pretty close to being just like the fresh, "made to eat right then and there" Zebra Domes from Boma!)
About the only downside for me at the Mara, is the pesky location. It's just so darn close to the pool that you'll find more scantily clad, wrapped in a towel, slightly wet guests squishing around in flip-flops (if you're lucky), and I've even seen a few bare feet... as if the Mara were a pool bar. I get it… it's a resort, you're on vacation… the Mara is right there, it sort of looks like it's a giant pool bar. I'm just saying… dry off first… you're going to catch a cold going right from the pool into the air-conditioning!