How to Eat Local-er When Traveling

When was the last time you dined in someone’s home on a business trip? It’s one of the very best ways to get to know a new place and another culture. But unless a colleague invites you to his or her home, it’s hard to swing.

Enter the sharing economy. This is one of my favorite concepts when applied to meals: matching cooks with eaters. It goes like this…. A cook (home cook or professional) offers a meal on a cook/eater website. The offering includes a menu with photo, price per person (usually $25 – $50, though some are even free), information on alcohol (provided, BYOB or nada), and a general location. As an eater, you sign up for a meal and pay online. That’s when you’re sent the address. Offerings can be spotty, depending on where/when you travel, but these sites are worth checking out, pre-trip. (And if you’re an accomplished home cook, think about hosting when you’re not traveling!)

Two websites do an especially great job with helping travelers eat local: Feastly and EatWith. For both, you can browse through meals offered in your travel destination. EatWith has been at it longer, and I like the fact that besides being able to sign up for a particular meal on a specific date, you can also click on “Suggest Date” to request the same meal another time if the dates shown do not fit your travel schedule. I’m partial to Feastly because I’ve participated in a Feastly dinner in Brooklyn that was incredible.

Sharing economy companies and local governments are head-butting, usually because of the lost tax opportunity for the municipality. I wonder if this will happen with these meal sharing companies. On my recent visit to Hong Kong, I was told that the city’s “secret kitchens” were born out of an era when the bureaucracy for opening restaurants was so oppressive that chefs began to serve meals in homes.

If you enjoy dining in private homes with strangers (I do!), check out SaltShaker.net’s listing of underground dining. The next time I’m in Paris, I vow to attend one of Jim Haynes’ Sunday Dinners—he has opened his house to travelers for the past 30 years. Imagine the history of fascinating conversations in those rooms.

Take your travel dining to a deeper level of local. I dare you!

Have you ever eaten a local meal in a stranger’s new friend’s home while traveling?