There is no better way to discover a place and its people than via food. (As evidenced by our recent roundup of great food and wine trips.) A number of businesses are popping up to help travelers do just that by pairing visitors with a home-cooked meal in someone's house. It's as much a social experiment as a culinary one, and it seems to be catching on.
Besides enjoying authentic food, an invitation into the home of a local can lead to insider travel tips, additional connections around the country, and friendship. Meeting not only the hosts but also the other visitors hooks you up with likeminded people who share a love of food and traveling. It's as great for solo travelers looking for company as it is for families seeking new experiences. Even locals are showing up in droves to sample the fare and socialize.
Italian sociology professor Egeria Di Nallo started Home Food in 2004 in collaboration with The Association for the Guardianship and Exploitation of the Traditional Culinary-Gastronomic Heritage of Italy and the University of Bologna. As much an attempt to preserve Italian culture and heritage as it is a tourism endeavor, Home Food pairs visitors with hostesses—lovingly called cesarina, or empresses. They cook up a traditional, multi-course Italian meal with wine in their homes for four to eight guests. Diners must first join the Association for €50 ($64), but they get the first meal free, which usually costs €39.90 ($51).
When EatWith founder Guy Michlin was on vacation in Crete, the best experience of his trip was eating in the home of a local. On returning to his native Israel he found a business partner and decided to start a website similar to Airbnb, but pairing travelers with home cooks instead of accommodations. They have currently set up operations in Israel and Spain, and have plans to slowly roll out around the world but since they personally vet every single host, this takes time. Meal prices are set by the hosts, with EatWith getting a cut, and range from $30 to a few hundred.
Started in 2011 in Washington, DC by entrepreneurs Noah Karesh and Danny Harris, Feastly makes it possible for home cooks in the DC area, New York City, and San Francisco (with more cities coming soon) to host guests for dinner. Like EatWith, they also vet all hosts, ensuring a clean and delicious eating environment. Meal prices vary, but average $38. Experiences run the gamut from rooftop ice cream tastings to extravagant eight-course meals. The site is currently in private beta mode, so you need to request an invitation to join, which usually takes a few days.
Eat With a Local
More like Couchsurfing than Airbnb, Eat With a Local was started four years ago by Vicki Edmunds as a way to hook up willing locals with intrepid travelers. It is free to join and use, and most hosts don't even charge for meals. Those who would like to host but can't or don't want to cook at home also have the option of offering to take visitors to their favorite restaurant instead. Based in the UK, Eat With a Local hosts can be found the world over. Although they're not individually vetted, Edmunds has personally dined with hosts around England and the US and as far as Goa, and has had a number of diners in her home as well, all with great success.
Adentro Dinner Club
One of many similar not-so-underground supper clubs in Buenos Aires, Adentro Dinner Club is a weekly affair at one couple's Palermo home. Every Wednesday the couple—a native Argentinian (and professional chef) and an American transplant—invite 10 folks into their house for a traditional barbecue dinner complete with Argentine asado, steak, sausage, veggies, chimichuri, and more. The meal costs 300 pesos ($58), and note that cash is the preferred payment method.
Photo credits: All photos courtesy of EatWith