Cookisto: Airbnb For Home Cooking?

Home cooking
Flickr, Sean Ganann

We’ve seen collaborative consumption work with everything from car rentals like ZipCar, to vacation rentals like Airbnb. But would you pay to eat someone else’s home cooking?

Cookisto, a social network that connects home cooks with hungry “foodies,” started in Athens and will soon come to London. Cooks make their own dishes, upload the details onto the site including number of portions and cost, and share their menus over social media. Eaters can arrange for delivery or pick up, depending on what’s on offer.

Quality control is all on the honor system, with users providing ratings on their experiences. The program has been successful so far in Greece, where the economic crisis has made residents look for creative ways to put food on the table. Cookisto meals generally cost a few euro, far less than you’d pay in a restaurant, but enough to earn the cooks a bit of extra money. The community has attracted both professional and amateur chefs, competing for good ratings and repeat orders built on trust and reputation.

Would you pay to eat someone else’s home cooking? What would you cook for a stranger?

Eating With Locals The Easy Way

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]

New Orleans Roadfood Festival rolls in March 24-25

new orleans foodThat New Orleans is a food town is no secret. What I just discovered, however, is that it’s host to a food festival spawned by one of my favorite pastimes ever: road food (and no, I’m not referring to this kind). Way back in the day, when I was a wee college student, I discovered the late, great Gourmet magazine, and became obsessed with “Roadfood,” a column (now a website) written by the road-trippin’, big-eatin’ couple Jane and Michael Stern.

In every issue, the Sterns would choose a micro-region of the U.S. and a local specialty on which to focus their column. Each month, I read about chicken and dumplings in Indiana, pasties from Montana, green chile from El Rito, New Mexico, or barbecue from Owensboro, Kentucky. Then I’d wipe the drool off of the pages and stash each article away in a manila folder to be saved for future road trips, both real and imagined.

Apparently, nearly half a decade ago, while I was lost in some “best roadside diner biscuit” reverie, the Sterns helped create the New Orleans Roadfood Festival. The 4th annual food fiesta will be held March 24-25 in the city’s historic French Market. It will provide a showcase for over 30 restaurants across the country, which will serve the dishes that made them famous. Attendees will be able to street-feast upon Texas and Memphis barbecue, Tucson’s best tamales, custard from upstate New York, Cajun and Creole delicacies from across Louisiana, and many other regional culinary specialties. There will also be cooking demos, live music, a beignet-eating contest for the N.O. Fire Department, and a kickoff party featuring the Sterns, local chefs, and noted cookbook author Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

And get this: admission to the festival is free. You’ll still have to pay for those good eats, but a portion of the proceeds will benefit Cafe Reconcile, a non-profit restaurant that uses innovative strategies to provide life skills and job training to youth from at-risk communities in area. Just in case you need a guilt-free reason to indulge. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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[Photo credit: Flickr user Adam Melancon]