My dinner with strangers, thanks to an innovative app
How technology brought a diverse crowd together for a dinner party.
I'm sitting with a dozen or so people I don't know at a dinner table inside a stranger's apartment. A skylight suns the vines that cover the walls, and wall-to-wall shelves are stocked with more herbs and spices than I can count. The chatter subsides for a moment as the host brings out the next dish: an elaborately decorated egg-tofu custard. I pick up my chopsticks and pop a bit into my mouth, delighted at how the thick, creamy dish manages to be both so smooth and hearty at the same time.
I'm at a dinner party run by Eatwith, an app created in Israel where diners can sign up for a fee and visit chefs' houses to eat top-quality meals with other diners: essentially, the tech version of a dinner party.
Meal-sharing apps are becoming more and more popular. Sometimes called the "Airbnb of food," these apps promote paying for home-cooked meals. Some, like Washington-based Feastly and Argentina-based Cookapp, invite users to professional chefs' houses for luxurious dining. Others, like Amsterdam app Shareyourmeal, are more informal and hook neighbors up to share meals and leftovers.
I learned about all this a few weeks ago after wondering if someone had come out with an app for sharing food yet. After a Google search brought up meal-sharing app Eatwith, I was immediately curious. After browsing on Eatwith a bit, I found "Ajito tasting menu: Japanese inspired kitchen" in an apartment just a train ride away in Brooklyn.
When I arrived at the apartment, Ai, the host, was feverishly preparing her first course. Ai grew up in Japan, where her mom taught her to cook a variety of traditional dishes. She and her husband, Matt, built a small garden on their New York rooftop where they grow their own vegetables and herbs.
That was part of what drew me to this meal: Ai uses homegrown vegetables in the kitchen, along with other organic foods from local markets. I've been working on being more food-conscious lately — me and just about everybody else — so I wanted to try something healthy and natural.
I introduced myself to a few other early guests, and we enjoyed pre-dinner drinks, including Ai and Matt's homemade kombucha.
Once the dinner got started, Ai would bring out a course and tell us a bit about it. I sorely needed this information; as it turns out, eating burritos and Pad See Yu didn't mean I knew much about food from around the world.
We enjoyed dishes like stuffed tomato, fried tofu, Japanese salad, mushroom soup and a gelatinous dessert that tasted like the Chanel of Jell-O.
As I ate, I got to know the other guests. I met a couple who were visiting from Chicago, a New Jersey psychologist, a woman from India and a man from Taiwan. We talked a lot about travel, a topic that we, as non-native New Yorkers, could relate to.
I'm not the most exuberant party person, which made this experience surprisingly comfortable compared with, say, going to a bar or club. There were only about 15 of us eating together for a few hours, and talk flowed naturally. Since no one really knew each other, everyone was pretty friendly between delicious dining breaks.
The cuisine itself was quite tasty, though I'm honestly not enough of a foodie to give any real Iron Chef-like assessment. It was certainly a great sampling of Japanese culture.
As I looked around at the other diners, I realized we were also something of a sampling. We came from such diverse backgrounds, and we had just a few hours to get to know each other's strange lives. The meal brought us together to try a new cuisine, but it also brought us together to try out an evening with a completely new set of friends from around the world.