Disneyland's Iconic Turkey Leg Gets A Lunar New Year Festival Twist

Several food items are synonymous with the Disneyland Resort: the corn dog, the Mickey pretzel, the churro, the Dole Whip, and, of course, the turkey leg. Available at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, the turkey leg is that oversized piece of poultry you can find both kids and adults constantly munching on as they tour the parks.

Originally introduced in the '80s, this oversized savory snack is a smoky treat that could either act as your midday meal or simply tide you over until the next Disney delicacy gets your taste buds watering. Even though this tasty bite has been satisfying fans for over 30 years, the brilliant minds behind some of Disney's favorite food items wanted to change things up for this year's Lunar New Year Festival which runs at Disney California Adventure through February 18th.

This time around, Disney decided to put an Asian spin on the amusement park morsel in honor of the Lunar New Year. We caught up with Joanna Aguayo, one of the chefs for Disney California Adventure's Paradise Pier, to get the nitty gritty behind the sudden switch, if this new rendition will be sticking around, and what goes into making this finger-licking treat. 

The Year of the Dragon played a big part in this new flavor twist

Often found in several Asian cuisines, it made sense to add char siu to this year's festival, especially since this year just happens to be the year of the dragon. "Char siu is just something that, you know, was bright, red, just called out your name, like, you know, we think of a dragon, we think of fire, and that's the inspiration for it," explains Aguayo.

Now, when most people hear the word fire associated with food, they immediately think the dish is going to be spicy (us included), but the chef promises this turkey leg isn't spicy at all. "It's sweet!" she exclaims. "But if you look at it, it's nice, bright red, so you think, like, spicy, but you're getting the sweetness from the char siu."

The leg isn't cloyingly sweet, though. Unlike other barbecue sauces that might be syrupy thanks to the large amounts of brown sugar or ketchup, Aguayo tells us that it's the "umami flavors" that make the char siu stand out. She says adding those flavors to the smokiness of the turkey leg "adds a different dimension" to the dish. "It's not just your normal char siu flavor," she continues, "it truly brings out that barbecue feel to it. Our turkey legs have a strong smoky flavor, plus the char siu, just kind of was a hit."

The chefs didn't deviate from the classic char siu recipe

"We didn't stray too much from the traditional char siu flavors," the chef explains. "We went pretty traditional, and then just soaked our turkey legs in them and then roast them off." That's another difference between the typical barbecue sauce and a custom char siu: The char siu is a marinade that the turkey bathes in for hours.

Five spice, hoisin and soy sauces, honey, sesame oil, and brown sugar are just a few of the key ingredients that make up a quintessential char siu. While Aguayo says that they kept close to the time-honored recipe, they did end up putting a Disney spin on it: The legs are still marinated in the char siu, but then they slather an extra coat of that luscious glaze over it so you taste those distinct flavors with every bite from the crispy skin all the way to the bone in the center.

Our final thoughts

We've always been big fans of the classic Disney turkey leg. Not only does it taste delicious, but it's so big it can easily satisfy one person or a few. And since it comes in its own bag, you can tuck any leftovers away to save for later in the day.

This new iteration still comes in that nice paper and tinfoil bag and still has plenty of the original's smoky flavor. But that's where the similarities end. Unlike the classic's sticky sweet barbecue sauce, we get a delightful glaze that lightly coats the turkey from top to bottom. But it's those umami flavors that shine through. We can really taste the subtle bite of the five-spice powder, and the combination of hoisin sauce and honey keeps us nibbling even when we think we can't take another bite.

If you want to taste this delectable treat, you'll have to make a trip to Disney California Adventure before February 18th. While you can find the turkey leg at both parks, only the char siu version is available at California Adventure, and once the Lunar New Year festivities are over, Aguayo believes this version will disappear. That said, she's pretty sure it'll be back at some point. We hope she's right.