That fantasy travel connection—the one in which you bond across cultures by dining with a local who tells you about the trendy shops and secret restaurants—is easy to arrange. To set up the scene, dig into the new meal sharing services, the latest offerings of the sharing economy.
Just as Airbnb lands you a room in someone’s home, meal sharing gives you a seat at a local’s table. The host cooks the meal, establishes the fee, dates, menu, and number of guests. Most of the time you won’t be the only diner.
Prices range from about $8 to $50. The cost depends on the entrée and the chef’s skill. At some gatherings, the cook whips up omelets and at others, foodies create fusion entrées that mix Asian and Latin American influences. To learn about the flavor of the evening, read the host’s event description, browse the menu and check the reviews.
The list of cities with hosts who dish up meals is growing. You can pick a local plate in US cities, including New York, Chicago, and Washington, DC, and international destination such as Berlin, São Paulo, Paris, and Brussels.
Whether you come away friends with your new-found food mates, well, that’s part of the magic—or not—of the evening. Follow these sites for some home-cooked meals.
The hosts, who are not professional chefs, seem like gregarious types skilled at putting together a good meal that varies from simple to somewhat complicated. You can opt to share a Spanish omelet with Guillermo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; Chinese dumplings in Chicago; or chicken with Ankit in Berlin. Hosts post their interests, why they share meals, add a few facts about themselves and also their images and photos of their dishes. MealSharing offers hosts in 450 cities worldwide. Price range $8-$25+.
Feastly is more for foodies. The friendship potential remains the same as in MealSharing, but the hosts call themselves “passionate chefs who give you access to hidden food gems you won’t find anywhere else.” As a result prices tend to be higher than MealSharing’s. Along with food in home kitchens and dining rooms, Feastly also uses pop-up spaces. Try a Malaysian clay pot stew in San Francisco, a Caribbean feast in Harlem, NY, and Singapore street food in Decatur, GA. Price range $20-$70.
Similar to MealSharing and Feastly, Plate Culture’s cooks tends to host in foreign locales. Sample Indian food with Rishika in Kuala Lumpur, a Eurasian Sunday roast with Perasa in Bangkok, and Hanoi Vietnamese fare with Tam in Saigon. Price range $10-$40+.
For now, VizEat (which consumed the service Cookening), has fewer US cities than foreign ones. Find hosts in Boston and New York along with cooks in Paris, Bologna, Barcelona, Brussels, Haifa, and other international locales. Go to the local market to select fare then dine in a park with Coralie in Paris, eat a lunch of fish and fresh vegetables with Donata in La Spezia, Italy, and munch on grilled eggplant with tahini cooked by Frank in Haifa. Price range: $25-$60+.
A note of caution:
These experiences could be great or not. I admire both the hosts and the diners. You could end up enjoying that singular, local experience you remember forever as you trade stories and meet locales. But you could also dine for hours—because a meal takes hours—with people whose politics and outlook you don’t share.
Yes, I have met interesting people on planes and trains, but these memorable experiences number fewer than the neutral or negative ones. I also think about the safety of walking into a stranger’s home. Undoubtedly, the overwhelming majority of hosts are what they seem—nice people who want to share some food and some talk. Still use caution when considering these options.
That said meal sharing can deliver a great experience.
What do you think? Have you tried these services? Would you try them?