Many would say that food is a universal social language. What better way to discover a new destination than by meeting up with the locals and eating together? Here are some ways you can embark on a cultural immersion experience by dining at the home of a local.
Picture this: traditional-looking homes line the cobblestoned pathway ahead of you. You make your way down the street, stopping in front of a home with a colorful door with intricate carvings on it. The owner, a genial-looking man in his thirties, welcomes you warmly and gestures enthusiastically for you to enter. Upon stepping into his home, you discern a fragrant aroma wafting out of the kitchen.
‘Here, have one,’ says the man, who introduces himself as Andrea, before thrusting a plate filled with crisp crostini romani towards you. ‘It’s excellent,’ he adds with a wink.
You take a bite of the bread, fresh flavours of anchovies and provola exploding in your mouth. He is right – it is excellent, and so are the rest of the dishes that follow. A simple spaghetti with garlic and chilli peppers, and an appetising dish of meatballs cooked in tangy tomato sauce. An intriguing-looking dessert, one that you have never seen or heard of before, rounds out the meal. Shaped like a sausage, cut into thin slices, and laid out on delicate porcelain plates, Andrea explains, ‘It’s sweet salami and hazelnut cream. You must try this!’
Throughout dinner, conversation flows smoothly. A native of Florence, Andrea shares about how it was like to grow up in the city. He tells you of places that only the locals know about, and regales you with fascinating tales about the history of his country.
‘What are your plans for tomorrow?’ Andrea asks after the meal. ‘If you like wines, you should definitely join in a wine-tasting tour. Florentine and Tuscan wines are famous around the world, especially those produced from the vineyards in the Chianti Classico region.’
He then proceeds on to share about must-see sights in the city, including well-known attractions such as the Piazzale Michelangelo, Piazza della Signoria and the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte, as well as hangouts frequented by the locals.
As the night draws to an end, you part ways, happy to have made a new-found friend in a city that you are visiting for the first time, and to discover interesting insights on the lives of the locals in Italy. It was almost as if you had just read an engaging travel guide book, weaved together from a compilation of personal stories and experiences of the locals in the country.
This is a glimpse into what a meal sharing experience has to offer. A growing trend in the travel and sharing economy sector, this concept also goes by other names, such as food sharing and social dining. Travellers browse through a social dining platform, review the list of dining experiences in a specific location that they are visiting, pick a host, and book a meal on on the dates that the host is available.
This experience may appeal to diverse types of travellers. Foodies with an irrepressible love for cooking, learning new recipes and discovering food traditions are likely to find this to be an enticing travel experience. The concept will also appeal to cultural buffs keen on a cultural immersion – to interact with the locals, dine in their homes, find out about their lifestyle, and to savour authentic, home-cooked dishes.
The cultural immersion is not a one-way experience. Rather, it is a two-way exchange, as hosts also gain new insights from mingling with their guests. Contrasting perspectives, mindsets and opinions are shared and discussed when group dinners are arranged with guests coming from different countries.
Such an experience may not be for everyone. An adventurous streak, open-mindedness, as well as a keen interest in seeking out new experiences is required. Are we open to trying out delicacies that we have never heard or seen, and dining in the homes of strangers that we have never met?