Why you should care
When you’re traveling you gotta eat, so ditch the guidebook and try authentic dining at its best: with the people.
Pooja Bhatia is an OZY editor and writer. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Economist, and was once the mango-eating champion of Port-au-Prince.
With the success of Airbnb on the one hand and the foodie juggarnaut on the other, it was only a matter of time before home cooks started turning their stovetops and dinner tables into income-generating assets. The next phase of the sharing economy boom is dineshare. That’s right: surf weblistings for a meal you might want to eat, and then break bread with a stranger.
The most compelling platforms are pitched at travelers seeking home-cooked meals on their journeys. They aim to provide more “authentic” eating experiences to the roadtripper, backpacker or ethno-tourist, and in doing so, to replace the Rough Guide’s overly trod tourist dives. And, indeed, the offerings on places like Traveling Spoon, Meal Sharing and Cookening whetted our appetites. As they might yours, especially if you’re a gregarious trusting type. (If you’re an introvert, agoraphobe or paranoiac, you might want to stick to the guidebooks.)
The pitch: Connect with locals in their homes, experience authentic cuisine and family recipes.
Size: About 70 hosts in 15 cities in India, Thailand and Vietnam. Unlike other sites, Traveling Spoon vets each host for “incredible” food — as well as safety.
The hosts: For many hosts, Traveling Spoon represents a chance to share their culture and their cuisine, to connect with travelers and to practice their English. “A lot of them are retired,” says co-founder Stephanie Lawrence, “and they do it because their husbands get grouchy at night and they want to introduce them to other people.”
Price: From $25 to $150 for a daylong experience that includes travel to the countryside, marketing, a temple visit and meals.
Bear in mind: Many Asian cultures take an adamantly more-is-more attitude toward feeding, stuffing their guests with third and fourth helpings. This can leave travelers feeling guilty for cleaning their plates — or simply immobile. Etiquette guides are in development.
Next up: Traveling Spoon is now vetting hosts in China and Japan.
The pitch: What started out as a way to connect travelers to locals has become partly a platform for dinner parties and “creating new encounters,” says co-founder Cedric Giorgi. “We’re based in Paris, and a lot of travelers want to enjoy real French food — but then we discovered that local people are also interested in meeting other locals over food.” Some 50 percent of their meals are brokered by locals.
Size: 150 hosts ready to cook a gourmet meal for you next week. Half are in France, and the rest are in Europe and the United States.
The hosts: They’re ambitious cooks looking to test new cooking ideas and for the burst of adrenalin that comes with cooking-as-performance.
Price: From $20 to $55 for a meal.
Keep in mind: There’s no pre-vetting of hosts, so all the accountability comes through reviews. Also, go for the food and the encounter, not for lasting friendship: “Especially in France, when you say making new “friends” — well, ami is a very strong word, and it’s not like having a meal together makes you friends,” says Giorgi. “It’s a way to meet new people and have moments and encounter completely new people.”
Next up: They’re hoping to scale, aiming at several thousands hosts worldwide by the end of 2014.
The pitch: “Facilitated serendipity,” says founder Jay Savsani. “We didn’t create the concept of having people eat together — we’re just reimagining a paradigm that we used to live by.” Meal Sharing makes the process of dining with a stranger safer and more efficient, he says.
Size: The platform has guests and hosts in 425 cities, with concentrations in Chicago, Berlin, Sao Paolo and Madrid. It’s brokered more than 1000 meals so far.
The hosts: They lean more towards showcasing everyday cooking than gourmet cuisine. “It’s not about being an ultra foodie… or an extravagant meal,” says Savsani.
Price: Roughly $10 to $15 per meal, but because the platform is still in beta testing, there’s no “strong price range” yet, says Savsani.
Keep in mind: As with Cookening, there’s no pre-vetting of hosts. But having launched on Thanksgiving 2012, Meal Sharing may be the oldest of the homecooking platforms. It’s aimed at travelers and locals alike, and with support from OpenTable’s Chuck Templeton, we expect it to go far.
Next up: The Meal Sharing team went on a month-long mealsharing team jaunt over the summer — and now they’re making a short documentary of the experience.