How to eat with locals from all around the world

Indian dinner party
© Katherine Martinko

The most memorable meals of my life have been shared with locals in foreign countries. From a leisurely six-course lunch beneath a mountain in Sardinia and a decadent feast of curry in a Pakistani home, to a plate of black beans and rice in the arid outback of Brazil and a humble bowl of lentils with chapatti served in a New Delhi workers’ tent, these food memories will stay with me forever.

The people who prepared these meals and sat down to eat them with me were all adept cross-cultural ambassadors in their own way. It’s astonishing how the simple act of eating together can build a sense of community, forge friendships, and promote mutual understanding.

Cooking is a powerful revolutionary act, both within our own kitchens and abroad, and it doesn’t get enough credit. By cooking, people learn to connect with food and pay attention to its sources and manner of production. By hosting, people create a forum in which to honour a cook’s hard work and learn about what food means to everyone. Especially in a foreign setting, sharing a meal is a wonderful opportunity to showcase different cultural attitudes toward food – which foods are revered and rejected, how it’s made and served, what matters and what doesn’t.

If the sound of international meals shared in private homes appeals to you, but you’re wondering how on earth you can suddenly rustle up a personal dinner invitation to a home in Paris, Phnom Phen, or Portland, rest assured. There is a way! Thanks to meal-sharing websites (like AirBnB for food), it’s possible to travel abroad and request a home-cooked meal with a local host. Likewise, avid home cooks can register to host travellers to their town.

One such site is Meal Sharing. Founded by Jay Savsani from Chicago, its mission is to connect people through food: “Meal Sharing aims to build communities through shared resources, facilitate deeper cultural exchange, and encourage people to cook at home to enable a healthier lifestyle.” Meal Sharing is entirely free, which means that neither the host nor guest pays to sign up or participate. The system is based on trust, as well as detailed reviews and red flags posted on the site if anyone has a bad experience.

Another site is Cookening, which works more or less in the same way as Meal Sharing, except that guests pay to participate. First, the cook posts a meal plan with a requested contribution; then any guest who wishes to attend must pay that contribution, as well as the website’s fee, which is 16.7 percent of the meal’s cost. This set-up could be a great way for talented home cooks to make a small living, while giving travellers an unforgettable experience.

Sharing food may seem a minor act, but I truly believe it can have a ripple effect with wide-reaching benefits. The more people who can be joined over the love of good food, the better off our world will be, from food production system to human health.

Tags: Dining Room | Food Miles