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Why I booked dinner at a stranger's house with an app... and I'd totally do it again

Meal-sharing site EatWith is like the Airbnb of food.

THIS WEEK, I did something that would probably make most New Yorkers think I was crazy. I ate dinner in a stranger’s apartment with seven people I’d never met before using meal-sharing website EatWith.

Sounds like it would be weird, right? I thought so too, but I enjoyed learning about my fellow diners’ lives and home towns, even if getting the conversation started was slightly awkward.

In case you’re new to meal-sharing, EatWith is like the Airbnb of meals. Guests select a location and a chef, then book their dinner online. Meals are served in the chef’s home and each chef is vetted by EatWith in advance.

It’s a great way to meet new people, try new foods, and if you’re a tourist, get to know a little bit more about the city you’re visiting.

Although it’s not a household name, EatWith has actually been around since 2010. After having dinner with a local family on a trip to Crete, the company founders started EatWith to share that same experience with others.

Since then, the company has grown to include dinners in over 150 cities around the world, from Tel Aviv to Barcelona.

Last week I headed to my first EatWith dinner. I was skeptical when I arrived and definitely concerned about making conversation with total strangers for the next two hours.

Would people be on their best behavior or would it be an evening of awkward moments and wishing I’d stayed home and ordered Seamless with my roommates?

First, I headed to the EatWith website to book a dinner in New York City.

BI1 Source: EatWith

There were plenty of options, but because most tables only fit a small number of people, the dinner parties book fast. I had to book one three weeks in advance.

BI2 Source: EatWith

I settled on a $47 “Little Paris in New York” dinner, hosted by a chef named Simon.

BI3 Source: EatWith

EatWith provides chef profiles to give you a little more information about who will be cooking you dinner. Here’s Simon’s.

BI4 Source: EatWith

You can also see who you’ll be dining with and a sample menu.

BI5 Source: EatWith

The day before the dinner, I got a reminder email including Simon’s address and phone number in case I got lost.

BI6 Source: EatWith

I was a little nervous when I arrived. The email hadn’t included a specific apartment number, but luckily Simon’s doorman knew exactly where to send me.

BI7 Source: Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Simon greeted me warmly. He’s a teacher by day, but has been offering weekly dinners through EatWith for about two months.

BI8 Source: Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

To set the Parisian mood, Simon played French music and the candlelit table was already set when I got to the apartment.

BI9 Source: Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

I was the third person to arrive. While we waited for the other four guests, Simon directed us to his terrace, which offered a great view of lower Manhattan. Getting to know people was a little weird at first, especially since I was by myself.

BI10 Source: Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

The dinner party was an international affair with two guests from London, England, two from Melbourne, Australia, and three from the United States. After about 15 minutes of chatting, it was time to sit down for dinner.

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BI11 Source: Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

The first course was ratatouille, a traditional French dish made with baked vegetables like squash and aubergine. As we started to eat, it was a little difficult to get conversation started. We were all trying to be polite, so we mostly chatted about our careers.

BI12 Source: Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Up next was a soup d’oignon, better known as French onion soup. At this point, our conversation had turned to international travel. There was an awkward pause when one of the guests said she doesn’t travel, but I still enjoyed learning about parts of the world I’ve never been, like Amsterdam and Tasmania.

BI13 Source: Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Our main course was a twist on the French duck à l’orange, served with a beurre blanc sauce, puréed spinach, and a sweet citrus balsamic glaze. We all agreed Simon’s sauce was the best part.

BI14 Source: Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Dessert was a simple raspberry cake. By this course, we were all comfortably talking away. Since several of the guests were on vacation in New York City, the New Yorkers at the table were happy to offer suggestions for sightseeing.

BI15 Source: Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Once we were done eating, Simon left the kitchen and joined us at the table. Exchange rates, jet lag, and Australian football were the main topics of conversation.

BI16 Source: Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

The entire evening lasted about two hours. By the end, I was surprised by how comfortable I felt around my fellow diners. While I don’t think I’d use EatWith in my own city again, I’d consider it while travelling. It’s a great option for meeting people and getting to know a new city.

BI17 Source: Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

By Madison Malone Kircher for Tech Insider

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