There was once a time when travelers were a rare species, so venturing off into foreign lands often meant being invited into the homes of generous locals where you were treated to lavish meals. This kind of thing still occasionally happens in developing countries, but as tourism becomes more and more commonplace, it’s rare to be able to dine with locals unless you’ve already got connections, are visiting friends, or are taking part in a home stay of some sort.
But the good new is that there’s now another a way to sit down to a meal with locals, and it doesn’t rely on serendipitous encounters with potential hosts or having a rolodex full of international friends. EatWith is a new online community that connects travelers with local hosts willing to invite tourists to their dinner tables. The concept – which recently launched – works much the same way as couchsurfing. Travelers and hosts sign up online, write detailed profiles about themselves, and then choose where and with whom they wish to dine.The user profiles provide plenty of information, like which languages the host speaks (always useful), what kind of food they plan on cooking for you and what you can expect during your meal (like whether you’ll be eating with just the host or a merry band of relatives as well). EatWith’s database also includes a number of “verified” hosts that have been vetted by the organization for travelers who are concerned about safety.
Some of the meal experiences currently on offer through the program include enjoying homemade paella in Spain, sitting down to a nine-course meal on a farm or taking part in a barbeque with a local family. Travelers pay around $30 and up for the privilege, but the cost is comparable to eating out at a restaurant – not to mention all the benefits that are hard to put a price on.
For one thing, the meal is a chance to meet locals and enjoy the home-cooked cuisine people really eat – not just the food available in the touristy restaurants (and sometimes there’s a big difference between the two). It’s also a great opportunity to pick the brains of a local, whether that’s an insight into the culture or politics, or simply some tips on things to see and do. And of course, it’s a chance to get some good suggestions about the hot places to dine so you can ensure the rest of your meals live up to the one you just had.
I think it’s a concept that’s sure to take off, since it’s great for travelers who are attracted by the social aspect of couchsurfing but don’t want to deal with safety or comfort issues. With programs like this, you can stay in a regular hotel but still enjoy the company of a local host. It’s also ideal if you’re a solo traveler – after all, sharing a meal with a friendly local and perhaps a few other travelers beats dining alone in a restaurant.
Right now, EatWith only offers hosted meals in Israel and Spain, but the company plans to expand to other destinations.
Have you ever eaten a meal with locals when traveling? Would you sign up to do it?
[Photo credit: Flickr user Laurel Fan]