Eating in People's Homes
(Beaufort, South Carolina USA)
Eating at someone's house in another country tops my list of favorite things to do. Italy is one of my favorite countries to do this as the people are so hospitable.
I have never had to use an app or service (thankfully) as I'm not technology savvy enough to do that. Instead, I make friends with people...usually the people I stay with, so I am invited to dinner often. I'm probably what you would call a conservative traveler, meaning I book places to stay before I leave the US. I'm able to correspond with the owner before I arrive.
Once I'm sure the place in right for me, I ask the owner for help in finding local people who are willing to teach me to make bread or pasta or any local specialty. And, I ask if there are local factories or stores I can visit that feature local industry, like butter or cheese-making, or needle work for example. These exchanges develop a foundation for friendship even before I arrive.
Last year in a tiny hamlet called Borla (Emilia-Romagna), the owner taught me how to make several different kinds of pasta and sauces which we shared over lunch. I've made bread and baked it in a wood-burning oven in Fratta-Todina with a mother and daughter who were introduced to me by the owner of the apartment where I was staying. And, when I helped out in a restaurant in Marsciano, one of the waitresses asked me to her home for a wonderful meal of Pasta Norma. It was a tiny apartment, with the table pulled out from the wall into the small living area where Tina, her husband, two daughters and one of the chefs from the restaurant all crowded around to share a meal. One of the young daughters spoke a little English and I read fairy tales in English to them. I've become good friends with that chef, who now owns a restaurant in Bastardo and we share a meal together every time I'm in the area... a beautiful woman making beautiful food.
My all-time favorite meal in a home took place in Rome. I had rented a villa in Umbria to celebrate my 60th birthday and friends from the US joined me there. With the villa owners’ help, a birthday party was arranged in a local restaurant. The owner and I worked long and hard together to ensure the party would be great, and it was. By the time I arrived at the villa, Gaetano and I were fast friends and have remained so. His main house is in Rome, but he came to Umbria and made sure everything went off perfectly for the birthday party. I stayed in Rome the night before my flight out and the owner and his beautiful wife, Clara, invited me and those remaining friends to their house for a fabulous meal.
For me, being invited into a home for meal is the ultimate gift. It takes trust, mutual respect and generosity to do this. The rewards are boundless and have continued over the years with strong friendships – all started over a meal.
Even when I don't speak the language (or at least not very well), food transcends language. Food bonds us in community. It gives us a level playing field. Food teaches us we are the same, with the same dreams, wishes and desires.
When strangers reach out and invite you into their home, they are telling you (in any language) that you are special.
I haven’t used any social dining apps or services to arrange these meals. For me the joy of travel is developing the friendships which evolve out of these meals. This takes time and energy but the end result makes it all worthwhile.
It's the reason I keep on traveling. People and food make the difference between an ok experience and a grand experience.