Would You Pay to Eat Dinner at a Stranger's Home?

A new online service invites you to be a dinner guest in homes around the world

"Who is this woman?" "What if the food is disgusting?" "What am I doing?!"

Going to a dinner party at a stranger’s house may be the next trendy thing, but I was having some serious second thoughts. I had found Shuchi on EatWith, a new and popular website that connects guests looking for delicious home-cooked meals with hosts who love to cook and throw parties.

The site’s co-founder Guy Michlin came up with the idea after a 2010 vacation to Crete, where a local family cooked him an amazing Greek meal in their home and shared insider suggestions for restaurants and places to visit. Offering travelers the chance to connect with a place through its local people and authentic food became his inspiration.

And it was why I signed up for EatWith. I love finding the secret gems of a new town and experiencing the culture and food — instead of the tourist traps. The best meals and the most memorable moments usually happen at some out-of-the-way spot, where the dishes are just like (someone’s) Grandma used to make.

Intrigued by the concept but with no immediate plans to travel, I decided to explore in my own backyard to find what haute cuisine was hidden behind the apartment doors across New York City. I’m not alone: Many EatWith users dine with hosts in their own towns to meet new people and experience amazing food at less-than-restaurant prices.

After searching upcoming events, I chose a dinner party hosted by Shuchi, a banker-turned-chef with a food blog. She is an "EatWith Verified Host," meaning a company rep approved her, her home and her food, plus her dining event sounded yummy and fun: "Perched above Manhattan's skyline, savor a homemade five-course Indian-fusion tapas meal while soaking in a night view of the Brooklyn Bridge in my apartment."

Roasted-Eggplant-Pinwheels

29calories

With a $46 suggested donation to the host (of which EatWith takes a 15-percent cut), I applied for a seat; for safety reasons, the site give hosts the right to approve guests, letting them view guest profiles for food preferences, interests and reviews from other hosts and guests in the EatWith community.

More impressive than the amazing views of the Brooklyn Bridge was how quickly Shuchi made me and the other guests, all fellow New Yorkers, feel at home. We kicked off our shoes, gathered around the kitchen island and dug into the amuse bouche of spicy red cabbage rasam soup and sweet mango chutney crackers.

Spicy-Red-Cabbage-Rasam-Soup

29calories

While Shuchi prepared each buffet-style course of small bites inspired by her native Indian cuisine, we mingled and chatted. There was the married couple who lived upstairs, the twenty-something friends who met in college, the photographer taking pictures for an article in a Swedish magazine and a trio of solo guests, myself included. Shuchi flowed in and out of the group, delivering and explaining each new course, effortlessly hosting us like we were old friends.

While there were the usual "Where are you from?" and "What do you do?" questions, conversation moved beyond the typical small talk and into real discussions about travel, love and family. Shuchi’s dishes spurred us on — eggplant pinwheel chaat, grilled tilapia bites with curried cauliflower puree served in gol gappas, chicken and lentil curry with brown rice pilaf and chocolate carrot pudding, all delicious and gorgeously presented.

The food gave us strangers a common ground. We tried each new bite together, marveling at its flavors and textures, sharing a new experience. I left the night feeling giddy.

Dinner with strangers? Not anymore.

Ellen Sturm Niz is an editor and writer working, parenting, and living in New York City. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Google+.

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