A Taste of Home, for Tourists: Online Start-ups Enable Travelers to Eat Like a Local

eat with clay williams
eat with clay williams
From Paris to Prospect Heights, hosts such as Ai, shown above in her Williamsburg kitchen, welcome guests into their homes for a from-scratch meal with help from sites like EatWith.com. Ai’s Japanese-style vegetarian meals have proven to be among EatWith’s most popular in Brooklyn. Credit: Clay Williams

A home-cooked meal can be one of the best ways to taste a faraway place, but unless you already know a local, securing an invite can be tricky.

Now, several budding startups worldwide — PlateCulture, Feastly, Cookening and EatWith — aim to make that as easy as using OpenTable. These sites offer a chance to find respite from chilly Amsterdam winters with a bowl of hearty homemade stamp pot (the Dutch mix of mashed potatoes and vegetables), to shop the farm stands of Tel Aviv for a Middle Eastern market meal, or to try a Malaysian grandmother’s recipe for nonya salted fish bone curry.

Often billed as Airbnb for meals, they operate in a similar fashion. Hungry patrons browse listings, RSVP for whatever catches their stomach’s attention, and pay a small fee electronically — between $15 and $70, say — to cover the cost of groceries. First, hosts typically undergo an evaluation that includes inspections, interviews and dinner demos, afterwards, just as with Airbnb, diners leave reviews.

PlateCulture is based in Kuala Lumpur and mostly arranges meals across Asia, such as an Andaman Island supper in Bangkok; Feastly, in Washington, D.C., is U.S.-focused, offering experiences such as an eleven course Pakistani Ramadan feast in D.C.; and Paris-based Cookening focuses on Europe, so you can try Moroccan choukchouka in Lyon.

Brooklyn itself is home to both an EatWith office and the most active branch of the San Francisco-based company, which currently lists meals in 90 cities and 32 countries, including Germany, Israel, Japan and Mexico. Guy Michlin, EatWith co-founder and CEO, first launched the company in his native Tel Aviv after too many meals in Crete tourist traps. A friend-of-a-friend hooked him up with an invitation to a local family’s Friday night dinner. “It turned out to be amazing.” Michlin says, “and was by far the highlight of the trip.”

For Cédric Giorgi, Cookening’s Parisian founder, the idea struck closer to home: He created Cookening simply to meet new friends. “My wife and I realized,” he says, “that we’re always hanging out with the same people.”

Similar sentiments likely motivate Brooklyn-based hosts making Venuzealan asado negro or Japanese dashimaki tamago, admits Naama Shefi, EatWith’s Brooklyn-based communications director. “The Brooklyn audience is way more open and adventurous,” she says, “so you’ll find many Brooklynites among the mixed guests.”

Read more about the author’s EatWith experience in Brooklyn here.

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